Richard Agar deserves huge credit for turning around Leeds Rhinos’ fortunes – Peter Smith
LATE ON in the win at Wigan Warriors last week, some of Leeds Rhinos’ travelling fans serenaded their coach with a chant of ‘only one Richard Agar’.
When Agar stepped up to the hot seat after Dave Furner was sacked in May, 2019, it was regarded – not least by the man himself – as a stop-gap measure.
Agar had joined Rhinos in a non-coaching capacity the previous pre-season and became Furner’s assistant when James Lowes left the club early in the campaign.
Leeds were linked with numerous potential candidates throughout the rest of 2019 – and were certainly looking – but, having saved them from relegation, Agar got the job on a rolling contract at the end of the year.
For some reason, the former Hull and Warrington – where he worked under director of rugby Tony Smith – team boss has never been among the most popular coaches in the game.
Strangely so, because he’s an approachable character who comes across well in the media, has a smart rugby league brain, deep knowledge of the sport and a decent track record.
To the delight of his critics, he got off to a very shaky start at Leeds. His first game in charge – though he didn’t really get a chance to prepare the team – was an embarrassing Challenge Cup defeat at Championship side Bradford Bulls and Rhinos were crushed by Castleford Tigers in his Super League debut. But since then, Agar has steadied the ship – steering them clear of relegation, winning a major trophy, securing qualification for the play-offs twice and now guiding them to within 80 minutes of a return to Old Trafford.
Considering where they were when he took over, those are solid achievements by any standard.
His biggest accomplishment up to now has been rebuilding the team’s culture.
The playing group has changed considerably and their attitude is light years away from what it was 28 months ago.
For evidence, have a look at the Bradford game and the indifferent reaction from his own team-mates to Callum McLelland’s maiden first team try – then compare that with how touchdowns have been celebrated this year.
In tandem with Kevin Sinfield, who has since left the club, Agar has improved the quality of Rhinos’ playing squad, managed to get the best out of players who were struggling to make an impact before he arrived and, most crucially, given young prospects a chance.
In July, Rhinos announced Agar had signed a new contract, though in fact it was simply a continuation of the rolling deal he agreed two years earlier. Since Sinfield’s departure was announced, Agar has been linked with a move into a new role at the club, possibly taking over responsibilities from the previous director of rugby.
That may well happen at some stage, but there is no urgency and making a change is not as simple as ‘a big-name coach is available, let’s go get him’.
It has to be somebody who recognises and understands the ethos of the club, which Agar does.
And with so many high-quality young players in the system, Leeds need a team boss who will give them a chance, which is another of Agar’s strengths.
Rhinos will go into Friday’s Super League semi-final at St Helens as underdogs, but just being there is an indication of how far they have come and a far cry from nervous afternoons against London Broncos two seasons ago.
Given all the injuries and other adversity thrown at them this year, Leeds have done well to reach the penultimate weekend of the season and – with three quality signings already announced – there are positive signs for 2022.
Agar so far hasn’t really got the credit he deserves for his part in Leeds getting back to where such a big club should be, competing in semi-finals and winning major honours, as they did at Wembley last October. It is still a work in progress and the next step is winning the competition, but Agar deserves recognition for getting Rhinos moving in the right direction.
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