New role at Leeds Rhinos is perfectly-timed challenge for Richard Agar

Richard Agar. Picture courtesy of St George-Illawarra Dragons.
Richard Agar. Picture courtesy of St George-Illawarra Dragons.
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Returning Richard Agar turned down three head coach roles in the UK during his year in Australia before agreeing to take up a newly-created position at Emerald Headingley.

This shows the calibre of person Leeds Rhinos will have in their ranks when the former Hull FC and Wakefield Trinity chief starts work as their head of player and coach development in December.

Leeds Rhinos' director of Rugby Kevin Sinfield.

Leeds Rhinos' director of Rugby Kevin Sinfield.

Agar, who has also led the France national side, has spent the last 12 months working as the head of player pathways at NRL club St George Illawarra.

It has certainly been an invaluable and thoroughly enjoyable experience for the Yorkshireman, who headed Down Under after three seasons working with Tony Smith at Warrington Wolves.

However, he asked to cut short his three-year deal in Wollongong after an unexpected change in family circumstances meant he needed to return to the UK.

In his first interview since his appointment was announced last week, Agar told The Yorkshire Post: “I have really loved my job here. It’s a very similar role to the one I’ll be doing at Leeds.

It is an opportunity for me to continue in the line of work I’ve been doing and to join a club that over the years I’ve had a lot of admiration for. I’m really honoured.

Richard Agar

“We’re extremely settled, the lifestyle’s superb and the job’s been great; everything’s set up and I was excited for next year.

“But about a month ago something came up which meant, for family reasons, we do need to go home, and, for 30 years, every decision I’ve ever made has been based around rugby league.

“As always in the sport timing’s very important and at times it’s not always been great or kind to me. But in this instance it certainly has. It’s a perfect fit.”

After a disappointment for the fallen champions that saw them wallowing in the Qualifiers again, legendary captain Kevin Sinfield – appointed as director of rugby in July after Grand Final-winning coach Brian McDermott was sacked – has been carrying out a root and branch review of the club’s entire football programme.

Richard Agar. Picture: Dave Craven.

Richard Agar. Picture: Dave Craven.

The changes he decided to make included bringing in Australian Dave Furner as new head coach for 2019, but also a raft of alterations to the first-team backroom staff and new structures elsewhere in the organisation.

Agar’s responsibilities, for instance, include overseeing the Rhinos Academy, Scholarship and Women’s sides along with talent identification, coach education and community club partnerships.

He will also look at Leeds Rhinos Foundation’s Rugby League Development Plan for the city, which relates to elite young player and coach development.

Featherstone-born Agar, 46, explained; “I had a long conversation with Kevin and spoke to him about a lot of topics. I also spoke to Gary (Hetherington) briefly.

New Leeds Rhinos' head coach, David Furner . Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

New Leeds Rhinos' head coach, David Furner . Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

“It is an opportunity for me to continue in the line of work I’ve been doing and to join a club that over the years I’ve had a lot of admiration for. I’m really honoured.

“It’s the biggest and best club in the UK. There’s a chance to work alongside some very, very good people and operators.

“But also to experience what is probably the best game-day atmosphere in the best stadium by fans who, even for an opposing coach that’s not had too much luck there, always make it a wonderful place to go play.”

Agar describes how his role will develop into an all-encompassing one – “everything happening outside of first grade” – but now knows first-hand the differences between the game here and in Australia where rugby league is so dominant.

He said: “It’s just the numbers. I’m a big believer that there is plenty of talent in England.

“But the junior/youth game has probably been in better states so the challenge to keep finding and producing players when everyone is in a small market is obviously a bigger one.

“I cover off two teams here – St George and Illawarra are still divided at junior rep’ level – and the amount of good players at our disposal is just phenomenal.

“Even over here they’re saying it’s taken a hit and there’s not as many as there used to be, but there is just so many and it gives them a distinct advantage.

“Yet while the actual pathways are different the principles are no different to those at home.

“They have an emphasis on investing more resource, but you can tell from Kevin’s remarks that Rhinos intend to now do that and, hopefully, it reaps rewards later.”

Leeds, of course, remain the most successful side of the summer era with eight Grand Final wins, built largely on the ‘Golden Generation’ of homegrown talent that included the likes of Sinfield, Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire.

Is it Agar’s task to ensure ‘Golden Generations’ for years to come are discovered and maintained?

He answered: “Not as such, but they’ve shown how serious they are with the emphasis they are paying on this part of their organisation. The fact they are beefing up the whole operation around recruitment, and Kevin’s own role in itself as general manager, it’s another resource to grow what already is a good department.

“Over the last decade or so, undoubtedly, Leeds have built on talent that came up through the ranks and I think you’ve seen it with Wigan, too.

“It’s the only way forward such is the rugby league market at the moment; it’s very, very difficult to buy a team.

“The emphasis and need, then, to grow from within is a massive one. We haven’t talked about the ‘Golden Generation’, but it’s an indication of the seriousness and emphasis that the club are placing on this part of their structure.

“I’m excited to get going and, hopefully, add something to the organisation.”