Inside RL: Agar too good to be sidelined for long – Smith

Richard Agar.

Richard Agar.

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RICHARD AGAR did a good job as Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ coach.

When he stepped down on Monday afternoon Wildcats were 12th in Super League, six points clear of the relegation zone. That may not have been entirely due to their own on-field deeds, but is still a much healthier position than seemed likely last autumn.

In his final few weeks at the club Agar came under increasing pressure from fans, who claimed he had taken the club as far as he could and a change was needed. Clearly Agar felt the same way, though criticism of his performance as team boss is unfair.

From a coaching point of view, Wakefield is one of the toughest gigs in the British game and his league record of played 69, won 27, lost 41, drawn one is reasonable under the circumstances.

The fact Agar was – after less than three full seasons in charge – the 10th longest-serving coach in the club’s history tells its own story. His former assistant James Webster will be Wildcats’ ninth Super League coach (after Andy Kelly, June 1997-May 2000), Tony Kemp (May-October 2000), John Harbin (October 2000-October 2001), Peter Roe (October 2001-July 2002), Shane McNally (August 2002-June 2005), Tony Smith (June 2005-July 2006), John Kear (July 2006-September 2011) and Agar (October 2011-June 2014).

Agar did not, he says, resign because of recent poor results. The loss at Bradford in his final game was Wakefield’s third successive defeat and 11th in 15 league games this term. However, he revealed he had actually told the board around a month ago he was planning to leave and his departure was set for after the Bulls game as Wildcats then have a free weekend, allowing his successor a bit of extra time to prepare.

Agar is ambitious and wants to compete at the top level. That is the reason he stepped down and his frustration with the situation at Wakefield is entirely understandable.

When he took over ahead of the 2012 campaign he was faced with rebuilding a team. He did a good job and steered them to eighth spot in the table, becoming only the third Wakefield coach to reach the play-offs.

Wildcats won their final seven games that year and nobody then was pointing at poor tactics or claiming he could not motivate his players.

After missing out on the eight last year, Wildcats ran into yet another of the club’s regular financial crises, leading to the departure of a host of key players and Agar having to start from scratch yet again.

Unless a rich backer can be found, matters aren’t likely to improve greatly in the forseeable future and Agar was aware that next season he will be in exactly the same situation, fighting to maintain the club’s top-flight status. Agar has denied having a new role lined up, but Catalan Dragons – he is coach of the French national team – could be another option if results there under Laurent Frayssinous do not improve.

The former York and Hull boss has left Wakefield in a relatively strong position and with their fate in their own hands.

Even were Bradford to receive back the six points they had deducted for entering administration, Wildcats have a far better points difference.

Webster has done an apprenticeship at Hull KR, where he was player-boss for a while, Hull and Wakefield and is ready to step up.

He is unlikely to make huge changes, but a fresh approach may bring dividends.

Agar, in the meantime, will bounce back – he is too good a coach not to.

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ABUSE of – or at least ill-tempered remarks aimed towards – referees seems to be on the increase.

Respect for match officials is something rugby league has taken pride in and losing that is a backwards step. Respect needs to be a two-way process and some referees should have a look at the way they do things, but when open dissent is permitted it is the top of a slippery slope.

Any abuse of match officials is unacceptable. Adopt a no-tolerance approach, with red cards for offenders and it will soon be wiped out.

On the specific issue of events in last Friday’s clash between Warrington Wolves and Leeds Rhinos, an investigation has been launched into “an allegation” Zak Hardaker (pictured) made “homophobic comments”. Anyone who has seen a clip may have an opinion as to who the alleged abuse was aimed at and what was said, but nobody knows for sure. Unless it was actually heard, it is very hard to be certain of what comment(s) were made or who the target was.

If the case is proven a deterrent punishment is justified, but at the moment Hardaker has not been charged (much less convicted), so justice has to be allowed to run its course.

Alex Walmsley

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