Agar to use Leeds Rhinos clash as yardstick of Wakefield Wildcats’ pre-season progress

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RICHARD Agar has challenged his Wakefield Wildcats players to stake a claim for Super League starting roles in the Boxing Day trial game at Leeds Rhinos (kick-off 11.30am).

The Wildcats coach will assess his side’s pre-season progress when they visit Headingley Carnegie Stadium to take on Brian McDermott’s champions in the Heatshot Festive Challenge.

And with competition for places high at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium in 2013, Agar is looking for his men to impress and provide him with a welcome selection headache for the Super League XVIII kick-off.

“The guys who are starting on Boxing Days are the guys who have the first bite of the cherry to impress me,” he said.

“It is the first chance of the pre-season to show what they are about and to keep the shirt.

“They can form some early opinions on the back of their performance at Leeds.”

Rhinos won the annual head-to-head 26-10 last year, in what was Agar’s first match at the helm, and knocked Wildcats out of the Super League play-offs at Headingley last season.

The Wakefield head coach is not too concerned with the scoreline on Wednesday, however.

“I’m looking forward to it, it’s a good way to start the pre-season matches, against the champions and in front of a big crowd,” he said.

“It’ll be a great yardstick to see where we’re at in terms of our preparation for next season.

“It’ll be good to see some of the things we’ve been working on in a competitive match and also some of the things we need to improve on.”

He continued: “There are a few names missing from the Leeds squad but when you look down the list of players it’ll still be a big test for us.”

Marquee signing Justin Poore is set for his Wakefield debut, but Agar has warned the travelling Wildcats fans not to expect too much from the Australian too soon.

“Justin will start and he’s really excited for the match, there will be plenty of eyes on how he does,” Agar commented.

“He’s only been here for three or four weeks though, so don’t expect too much from him yet. It’s his first game for us and it’s the first game he’s played for a while but it’ll be great to see him out there for us.”

Pre-season signings Reece Lyne and Bobbie Goulding could also make their first starts after being included in Agar’s initial squad, while Paul Aiton is set to make a first appearance since suffering a broken jaw in July.

Academy forward James Healy has impressed Agar enough to be named in his initial squad while Ian Kirke, the man Agar tried to sign for Wildcats for 2013, will line-up for Leeds.

Wildcats: Mathers, Fox, Collis, Smith, Cockayne, Sykes, Smith, Poore, Aiton, Trout, Lauitiiti, Kirmond, Washbrook. Subs: Wood, Mellars, Cowling, Lyne, Walshaw, Goulding, Wildie, Slater, Healy.

Rhinos: Watson, Jones-Bishop, Keinhorst, Moon, Vickery, McGuire, McShane, Griffin, Hood, Bailey, Kirke, Clarkson, Singleton. Subs: Achurch, Sutcliffe, Baldwinson, Sunley, McAvoy, Foster.

See this week’s Wakefield Express for full match report, reaction and pictures from the Heatshot Festive Challenge.