Leeds Rhinos’ remarkable record with half-back pairings during 2021 season

Few teams have suffered with injuries and player availability as much as Leeds Rhinos this season.

That is best underlined by their extraordinary record when it comes to half-back pairings. It’s said that consistency in the spine is key to strong performances in rugby league, but in their 20 matches in all competitions this season, Richard Agar has named 12 different pairings in the halves. Only three of those have started a match together on more than one occasion, too.

Here is every pairing the Rhinos have started a game with in chronological order, and how often they have featured together.

Liam Sutcliffe and Luke Gale – 7 starts together

By far and away the most common and frequent partnership Agar has been able to field.

Liam Sutcliffe and Luke Gale have started seven of Leeds’ 20 games together this season, but a large portion of those came at the beginning of the Super League season. With Rob Lui out at the start of the campaign, Sutcliffe was the chosen deputy at stand-off alongside Gale. Both men, however, have suffered injuries throughout the year – with both now highly unlikely to feature again in 2021.

That said, it will almost certainly remain Agar’s most frequently-used partnership this year due to injuries elsewhere.

Rhyse Martin and Cameron Smith – 1 start together

By the time Leeds had got to their third game of the season – the Challenge Cup defeat to St Helens – Agar had been forced to change both his starting halves.

Sutcliffe and Gale missed that loss to the team who would go on and lift the cup, and with Lui still injured and Kyle Eastmond not ready to play, Agar would give forward duo Cameron Smith and Rhyse Martin the chance to play in the halves. They have not linked up since.

Rhyse Martin and Kyle Eastmond – 1 start together

The following week, Eastmond was deemed ready to make his Leeds debut, and he lined up with Martin in the halves for Leeds’ defeat to Wigan.

But yet again, the following week, Agar would make yet another change to his half-back partnership.

Kyle Eastmond and Richie Myler – 1 start together

Richie Myler returned from injury for Leeds’ trip to Hull Kingston Rovers, but with Ash Handley at full-back, Agar opted to play the England international in the halves in what was one of the most experienced pairings Leeds have fielded at half-back all season.

It wasn’t enough to prevent another defeat though and yet again, one week later, the Rhinos were on the change again.

Liam Sutcliffe and Kruise Leeming – 1 start together

Kruise Leeming has been one of Leeds’ standout performers in 2021, and he has filled in at half-back on five occasions: with three different partners.

The first came at Huddersfield in round five, after Eastmond pulled out in the warm-up, meaning Leeming slotted in alongside Sutcliffe. At that stage, Agar had picked five different half-back pairings in just six games and as we now know, Eastmond would soon depart Leeds via mutual consent.

Kruise Leeming and Luke Gale – 2 starts together

Gale and Sutcliffe would link back up for three consecutive matches – the longest any half-back pairing has played unbroken together for Leeds in 2021 – before Sutcliffe was absent for their win against Salford, meaning Leeming returned to the halves. He and Gale have started together twice.

Rob Lui and Kruise Leeming – 2 starts together

When Gale missed out for a period in early-July, Leeming formed an effective partnership with Rob Lui, who returned from a long-term injury. They led the Rhinos to back-to-back wins against Leigh and Warrington, before Leeming stayed in the halves to partner Gale for their defeat to Catalans.

Liam Sutcliffe and Callum McLelland – 1 start together

As injuries, positive Covid tests and suspensions began to ravage Leeds’ squad during the summer, the 38-16 win against Salford late last month sparked a remarkable sequence of interchanges in the halves.

Sutcliffe and Callum McLelland played together in that game, but since that day, Agar has been unable to name the starting half-back for two consecutive matches.

Callum McLelland and Luke Gale – 1 start together

Gale returned the following week as Leeds went to Hull FC and won, but despite he and McLelland offering a rare glimpse of what life could be like with two out-and-out halves in the team, it wouldn’t last long.

Rob Lui and Liam Sutcliffe – 1 start together

When Gale picked up a suspension after being found guilty of making contact with the match official in Leeds’ defeat to Warrington, Agar had to rotate again. Lui had returned to full fitness by this point, but with McLelland also out, Sutcliffe returned to the halves for their loss against Castleford.

Rob Lui and Luke Gale – 1 start together

It took until mid-August for Agar to be able to name the two players with six and seven on their shirts in the halves together for the first time in 2021. Lui and Gale joined forces to impressive effect too – until Gale suffered an injury that looks set to end his season prematurely.

Rob Lui and Callum McLelland – 1 start together

For the sixth consecutive match, Agar was forced into another change for last week’s win against Huddersfield. With Gale out for the rest of the season, McLelland got the opportunity to pair up with Gale: but will they continue together on Wednesday night against Wigan?

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