Match Preview – Leeds vs Wigan

Kyle Eastmond has been told to feel his way back into rugby league as he prepares to make his eagerly-awaited debut for Leeds in Thursday’s Super League clash with Wigan at Headingley.

The 31-year-old dual-code international, who has joined the Rhinos on a two-year deal, was left out of their first three matches to give him more time to readjust but coach Richard Agar has confirmed the player will be part of his 17 for the visit of the 2020 Grand Final runners-up.

Eastmond has not played a match since leaving Leicester last July and it is nine years since his last appearance in rugby league for St Helens, so Agar is keen to temper expectations.

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“The message is to keep it simple for starters,” Agar said at his weekly press conference. “I certainly think he’ll help us in an area we struggled in last week, our last-tackle plays.

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“We’ll tell him to feel his way back in. Clearly there’s going to be a lot of eyeballs on him and a lot of expectation but we’re very relaxed and understanding of where he’s at at this moment in time and also where we are at as a team with a lot of key personnel missing.

“It will be up to the rest of the guys to help him around the field tomorrow in what is going to be the first game of rugby league he’s played in nine years.”

With skipper Luke Gale missing through injury, along with Richie Myler and Robert Lui, Agar will be hoping Eastmond can quickly plug the gaps in the halves.

“To throw him straight in there in a pivot position is a real challenge for him,” Agar added.

“As coaches, we are being very pragmatic and understanding and want to ease him in but, at the same time, we’re excited about getting him up to speed as quick as we can so he can showcase his talents.”

Beaten by Castleford in their last league game, Leeds lost their hold on the Challenge Cup at the weekend but Agar says the introduction of Eastmond is not designed to pep up the team.

“Believe it or not, I don’t think we need pepping up,” he said. “We’re on the back of two defeats but I don’t think you can look at our team and say it’s lacking motivation, desire and hunger. It’s quite the opposite.”

Leeds will come up against two of their former players in prop Brad Singleton, who will be facing the Rhinos for the first time since he left the club at the end of 2019, and Zak Hardaker.

Wigan are set to include full-back Bevan French for the first time since the Grand Final, which could mean a switch to centre for Hardaker, who has been in sparkling form so far this year in his old number one spot.

“I’m really close with Zak and I can tell in his game he’s on fire at the minute,” said Singleton. “You can tell how fit and strong he’s been.

“When he’s on, he’s an incredible athlete, and hopefully for us he’s going into the form of his life.

“It’s a healthy headache to have, we’ve got two world-class full-backs there.”

The selection dilemma is welcomed by Wigan coach Adrian Lam, who said of Hardaker: “I know he loves playing full-back, that’s his favourite position, but whether he plays full-back, centre or wing, he’s a competitor.

“I think over the last three weeks, we’ve had some great second halves of rugby and we’ve been quiet in the first half but Zak has been consistent through all of that and proud of him for that because it’s a tough thing to do at the start of a season.”

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