Wildcats dreaming of Hollywood finale as Agar takes tips off Pitt

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Considering their own refreshing tale could be the very basis of a Hollywood script, it should come as no surprise that Wakefield Trinity Wildcats coach Richard Agar cites Moneyball as a contributory factor to his club’s success.

The Academy award-nominated film, starring Brad Pitt, is the true-life story of an American baseball club’s general manager who radically attempts to formulate a successful squad on a vastly-inferior budget.

Oakland Athletics’ Billy Beane (Pitt) employs an economics graduate whose sophisticated statistical study of players and their talents sees them assemble a motley squad which – to the untrained eye – should produce little.

However, the analysis reaps rich dividends as underdogs Oakland – despite spending far less than their major rivals – go on and inconceivably win 20 consecutive games, an American League record.

Back in West Yorkshire, against Salford City Reds this evening, Wakefield are seeking a seventh victory on the bounce which would be enough to secure them eighth place and a play-offs spot.

It will be a stunning feat given Agar, on arriving from Hull FC last autumn, undertook a massive overhaul of their squad, bringing in 17 new players.

Many were, for whatever reason, simply unwanted by rivals, others were facing their last chance at making it professionally, perhaps damaged goods with vast potential but just as much baggage.

Some just needed a chance to kickstart a floundering career.

Trinity, who were in administration only last year, are certainly in a much better state now under new owner Andrew Glover but are still a club who have to battle for every last penny so Agar had to be hugely resourceful.

Granted, he took gambles but many have paid off and, ahead of tonight’s crucial game at Leigh, he admitted: “We have played a bit of Moneyball. We’ve worked on a basis of trying to recruit players who will give us value for money.

“We can’t get into bidding wars. We have to accept if a player’s in good form or gets a better offer somewhere else we have to find someone else who can do a job for the same wage or less.

“We have gone to clubs and got players like Richie Mathers and Paul Sykes; we have looked for good blokes, good people who we think will fit into the ethos and culture of the place.

“We very much accentuate the positives. If we’ve some who might have rough edges on them, one reason they might be playing for us and not a top-four club is that they have those rough edges.

“But for us it is about making sure there are more ticks in the positive box to what there is in the negative.

“And we will show those players some love.”

Scrum-half Tim Smith is one such player, a troubled soul who suffers from bipolar disorder but is currently one of the most influential operators in Super League after Agar took a punt on bringing him back from the NRL.

His partnership with Sykes, the versatile back who played for England in the 2008 World Cup but whose inclusion as squad number 28 showed what Bradford Bulls coach Mick Potter thought of him, has been critical in sparking this epic run which has sprung them into the top eight ahead of the final regular round.

He arrived on loan for the rest of the season in late March, initially as a centre before Agar’s pivotal decision two months later.

“Him moving to stand-off at the Magic Weekend game has been the catalyst for us,” insisted the coach.

“We really found the balance in our team with that combination.

“That is something I think has been a big factor in us going from a team that was competitive and not winning games to a team that started to get over the line on a regular basis.”

If they get over the line once more, regardless of whether rivals Bradford win in France, Wakefield will reach the play-offs for only the third time in their history.

Not bad for a squad many reckoned would wind up with the wooden spoon, even traipsing in below newly-promoted Widnes.

Agar admitted: “Most pundits tipped us, and rightly so, for bottom. You could see the circumstances and reason why.

“We are not a team that spends anywhere near the salary cap and we had some issues that needed sorting out – chopping and changing the roster from last year – to try and get a more competitive outfit.

“We didn’t get everyone here until late December so we didn’t have a hell of a pre-season either.

“But I think we have been competitive all year. Like any team we have had the odd blip – Easter springs to mind for us – but from the word go, even when we haven’t got results we have been spirited, competitive and tried to play the game in the right way.

“We have got our just rewards over the second half of the season. Since the Magic Weekend only Wigan have accrued more league points than us. Some have accrued the same but only Wigan have accrued more.”

The title of the 2003 book which inspired last year’s film is Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. It succinctly sums up what the likes of Wakefield face.

“In rugby league there is the haves and have nots and we are the have nots,” Agar added.

“To get us to the place we can be the most professional possible for spending as little money is a challenge and one I have enjoyed.

“I’m sure if you talk to our guys we haven’t got shiny, brand-new things but they get professionally trained and well looked after.

“In return, we expect professionalism and the right level of performance.”

So far, so good. The matrimony has been a happy one. Indeed, if it carries on in this vein, maybe Wakefield will yet form the backbone of a Moneyball sequel.

dave.craven@ypn.co.uk

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