Peter Smith: Richard Agar’s the right man for the Leeds Rhinos job ... at this time
IT IS theoretically still possible Leeds Rhinos could be relegated, but highly unlikely.
Betfred Super League’s bottom club, London Broncos, would need an unimaginable series of results – wins by 70 or so points in their final two games while Leeds lose both theirs by a similar margin – to send the eight-time champions down.
The open-top bus, however, will remain in its garage. For a club so accustomed to success – and Grand Final winners only two years ago – avoiding relegation with a couple of games to spare might be a cause for relief, but certainly not celebration. Rhinos have higher standards.
Now the job is done, attention turns to next year and ensuring they are never in this situation again. Key to that is the appointment of a permanent coach.
Leeds have finished among Super League’s bottom four in three of the past four seasons, which clearly isn’t good enough.
Toronto Wolfpack are likely to be promoted and they have the resources to build a squad capable of survival so one of the existing top-flight teams will be in real peril next year.
Rhinos were fortunate not to feature in the 2018 Million Pound Match and this season hasn’t been a one-off. The positive is, irrespective of what happens in the final two games at home to Salford Red Devils on Friday and Warrington Wolves a week later, Leeds have shown positive signs over the second half of the campaign.
Much of that is down to Richard Agar who has been filling in as interim-boss since Dave Furner was sacked in May. We will never know if Furner would have turned things around, but Agar has clearly brought about improvements, particularly in team spirit and defence.
So should he be offered the job on a long-term basis?
Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington says the coaching bridge will be crossed once this season is over, but – realistically – the process is already under way and several factors will have been considered.
Will Rhinos perform under Agar? After four wins in their opening 14 league games, they have won seven out of 13 since Agar took over and have, at times, played some good rugby doing so. They are leaking fewer points – twice keeping a clean sheet – and don’t look likely to concede every time the opposition get in their 20. They are still making errors and discipline could be better but, overall, a corner has been turned.
Do the players want to play for Agar? They speak highly of him in public and performances back that up. Morale certainly appears to have risen and smiles are back on faces.
Can Agar take the team forward and will he give young players a chance? He is an experienced coach who is well respected in the game and has good contacts here and in the NRL. Recruitment is important, but he has Leeds heading in the right direction and Agar was involved in coach and player development at Rhinos before stepping into the hot seat.
Do Rhinos want a new broom, or stability? An incoming coach would have to start again, as Furner did last year. That didn’t work. Agar is five months into the role, knows the squad and has his backroom staff in place so could hit the ground running in pre-season.
What do the fans think? This might not be the number one priority, but any business has to pay attention to its customers. Agar wouldn’t be a unanimous choice, but has proved he can do the job and deserves credit for what he has achieved so far.
Does Agar want it? Initially he didn’t, but that was then. He has been less emphatic in recent statements and is clearly impressed by the support received from both the players, club and – importantly – supporters.
If offered the role, it’s unlikely he would turn it down.
What Rhinos are thinking remains to be seen, though the answer may not be far away.
But, at the moment, Agar is the right man for the job.
A season-by-season contract, reviewed each year, would, perhaps, be ideal for both parties.