AS Saints head into their second game since their lockdown return, Leeds Rhinos head coach Richard Agar is cursing his luck.

The two sides, who recorded contrasting wins in their opening matches last week, meet at Headingley in the last game of the round tonight, kick-off 6.30pm.

Last time out Saints were comfortable and convincing victors over Catalans Dragons, while Leeds needed a 20-point recovery in the final 15 minutes before snatching a win against Huddersfield courtesy of a golden-point drop-goal.

But when they were originally due to meet in March Leeds were flying and champions Saints reflecting on successive defeats to Castleford and Huddersfield as the sport entered into almost five months of suspension forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were due to play St Helens after they’d played Cas. I reckon at that time they were maybe not firing on all cylinders,” said Leeds boss Agar.

“They had a massive season last year, they had a lot of players on tour, they’d had a massive World Club Challenge game and they had a couple of injuries.

“We were travelling alright and were thinking, boy, it wasn’t a bad time to get them. And then we watched last weekend and thought, yeah, these boys don’t look too bad after the break.

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“I thought the speed in which they played the game against Catalans was very reminiscent of them to being back to their best, which is quite amazing really after the break we’ve all had.

“They have Percival back, the way they carry the ball out of the back field and big fellas crashing through. We were impressed with what they delivered, given the record of where they finished before the lockdown but we could see the mitigating factors in a couple of their performances pre-Covid. Unfortunately for us, we’re probably catching them at the wrong time now.”

Kristian Woolf, in his first season in charge of Saints, said: “We knew we had a fair bit of fatigue and there was a fair few reasons for us not being anywhere near our best at that stage before the break.

“However the break allowed for some bodies to be freshened up, get some injured players back, there were some guys that had off-season surgery who hadn’t had a lot of time to get back to match fitness.

“All that together and the way that our players presented after the break and the way they trained the first three weeks we certainly knew they were ready to go. We were expecting the players to be able to come up with a decent performance.

“It’s always good to talk about performing well but you want them to go out and actually show that they can. I was happy with that, but we’ve got a bigger challenge this week.

“Leeds had been travelling really well before the break and although Richard will feel they didn’t get the whole 80 minutes right at the weekend they got enough of it right to win the game and they showed some class in doing so.

“We’re under no illusions that we certainly need to be better this weekend if we think we’re going to take away two points.

“We see them as being a bit of a step-up this week and a bit of a gauge at where we’re at as well. I think it’s going to be a great game of footy.

“I think we’ve got plenty of improvement left in us. I thought we fell away from a couple of things we were doing really well in the first half against Catalans as we played through the second.

“But I was happy with the approach for the first game and we have to make sure we’re thinking about how we’re going to be a little bit better again.”

Agar said his side had learned plenty about themselves in the first game back, given the game has become even faster with the change in rules that includes no scrums and repeat sets awarded instead of penalties for infringements at the ruck.

“Start playing before the 60th minute is the important lesson for my team,” said Agar, who will be without the injured Konrad Hurrell and James Donaldson.

“I don’t think there’ll be any 20-point comebacks this week if we start as we did last weekend.

“We felt it was a real learning curve for us. We had some good form before the break, everybody was in good spirits and looking forward to getting back, we had three good weeks training and then we got out there and played a team that came out and smacked us in the mouth and it sort of knocked us about a bit.

“We felt we lost our composure, we felt our discipline was poor, we felt we were careless and indisciplined with the ball.

“We’ve got a fair bunch of honest blokes who understand and have been in situations like this before and have shown a great desire to put it right.

“Also, once we felt a real wave of momentum against us, we’ve talked a bit about what contributed a lot to that for us at the weekend.

“Having said that, we also took the positives. The penalty count was 10-4, I think the ‘six again’ count at one point was 5-2, we gave two penalties away with the ball in our hands, yet we still managed to come through and have enough energy and get the momentum at the back end of the game.

“So momentum was a big one for us to learn. But at the same time I thought our effort overall was pretty good but certainly there were little efforts in there where we felt we’ve got to improve on that.

“And we’re playing a team this week that we know if we don’t tackle well it will be a tough day. We’ve got to bring our best defensive effort out this week against a wonderfully quick and powerful team.”

Woolf added: “The speed of the game is quicker, there’s no doubt about that.

“You can get some really good momentum, and you can get on the wrong end of it as well.

“We didn’t have a lot of lead-in time, and with the rules changing, it feels like it’s a new competition.

“I think the teams that were travelling well before the Covid break have good squads and are well coached, they’re going to carry a little bit of that form even though it was so long ago. And that was certainly Leeds for all those things that I described.

“We’re still quite early into it but you want to make sure you are performing well. It is a compressed season and you want to try and make sure you get as many points as you can at this time of the year because things get pretty crazy pretty quickly later in the year.

“You definitely want to be making these games count. There’s a lot of games to come up in a really short period. Anything can happen when we get to that period so it’s trying to get some points under the belt and some really good performances more importantly over these fixtures.”

He added: “Leeds are a very good attacking side in particular, with some really class players and strike players on both edges. They move the ball very well, they move the ball to the edges and play on the edges, on both sides.

“Defensively we have to be really well prepared for what they do well, and at the same time they’re a team that’s not easy to find points against and they showed that particularly at the start of the year.”