In all reality, remodelled Wakefield Trinity Wildcats must feel just as much like Super League newcomers as opening night opponents Widnes Vikings.
A few months ago, even the prospect of this evening’s game being the first fixture of the 2012 campaign would have been laughable.
Yes, Widnes were always favourites to win a licence and so be promoted from the Championship, returning to the top flight for the first time in seven years.
However, seemingly doomed Wakefield were similar odds to be the unlucky team to make way; they were in all intent and purposes preparing to face Hunslet, Dewsbury and Batley as this campaign got underway.
But then the dramatic last-ditch demise of the Crusaders earned them that most welcome of reprieves and so they retain their place in the elite – just not in the guise anyone quite remembers.
That is because the West Yorkshire club has made an astonishing 18 new signings during the interim, most of which were sorted by new coach Richard Agar, meaning the squad they field this evening could be unrecognisable to anything fans have witnessed before.
An overhaul of such magnitude brings its own problems and Agar told the Yorkshire Post: “It’s been interesting and, let’s say, very hectic. We’ve had an awful lot of things to do – aside from getting the team together, we’ve had to do the same with staff, sort training venues, arrange programmes and, also, just actually get used to the place.
“In the past, I’ve found I can’t wait for pre-season to end but, honestly, now, another couple of weeks wouldn’t go amiss.”
Given such a large overhaul, Wakefield may, perhaps, not be fully up to speed come kick-off this evening but the potential they possess for the season ahead is encouraging given the calibre of their recruitment.
Just 12 months ago, they had entered administration and saw the sale of three leading players before Andrew Glover staged his takeover yet they never really recovered and, with uncertainty about which division they would operate in during 2012, a limited squad limped on for the remainder of a dismal campaign.
However, Agar, who replaced the long-serving John Kear in the autumn, is the one benefiting from Trinity’s future being sorted for the next three years and he has begun the rebuilding process.
“I’m not sure overhaul is the right word,” he maintains.
“We just didn’t have that many players left. There was a few still in contract but, obviously, I wanted to shape the team in my own way. Also, I guess it’s fair to say, the team were second bottom last year so, from a purely playing point of view, we needed to try and make some improvements to that.
“I was certainly confident, with some quota spots at our disposal, I’d be able to fill some positions which would normally be hard to do just with English players.”
Indeed, hooker and half-back are so crucial in the modern game – areas where Trinity often lacked last season – so the overseas capture of Papua New Guinea hooker Paul Aiton from Cronulla Sharks, New Zealand Warriors scrum-half Isaac John and ex-NRL Rookie of the Year Tim Smith, the Cronulla stand-off, immediately offer Agar’s side a quality spine while the unexpected arrival of full-back Richie Mathers on loan from Castleford has been a “god-send”.
Agar arrives, of course, from Hull FC where he reigned as head coach for just over three years after initially serving as assistant first, ironically, under Kear.
His departure at the end of last season came when Adam Pearson took over the club and made it clear he wanted to start afresh in order to revive a sleeping giant. However, Agar, 40, insists he has no point to prove to the new owner despite the manner of his exit and said: “Everyone knows what happens when governments change.
“I can live with what people think as in my first five seasons we had two Challenge Cup finals and a Super League Grand Final.
“Despite what some people might want to put out there, I can look myself in the mirror and know I worked my hardest under two head coaches and then as a head coach myself.
“It was an intense place which absolute craved and demanded success – quite rightly so – but I’d done my time there.
“It has been a breath of fresh air for me at Wakefield. The squad is not the finished article but we do feel we’ve enough skill, talent and football know-how to cause teams problems.”
Featherstone-born Agar knows all about the deep love of the sport in Wakefield, his famous father Allan having featured there in 1980, and that their own supporters have their own standards which must be met.
“I’m a local boy and am aware of the issues and battles the club has faced,” he said. “But I’m also very aware of what a good feel there is here from top to bottom.
“Certainly, where our owner is concerned, it’s glass half full and it’s great to be part of something that, hopefully, we can develop together. That’s my aim as a coach. I’m not setting any targets about where we’re going to finish in the league but I want to set some standards of operation that help the club improve each year.”
The intriguing opener, on Widnes’ artificial pitch and televised live, is fitting for Agar, who played there when they last earned promotion in 2001.
He had the chance to move up to Super League with the Cheshire club but explained: “I was 29 years old and had a good job with Yorkshire Water.
“My body was beginning to play on me a little and, for a stand-off, my speed wasn’t electric – I’ve seen milk turn quicker.
“I did try to get a year off work but it couldn’t be done and I was already contemplating coaching.
“I took over England Students later that year and, 10 years on, I don’t regret not playing in Super League.
“To be the kick-off game now is a terrific feather for the club. Personally, I’m very proud of my time spent with Widnes and hope they will be successful. But we want to go rain on their parade.”