Agar hoping old city rivalries are rekindled in Cup opener

FRANCE coach Richard Agar hopes the fans of his former club Hull FC are going to forge an alliance with Les Tricolores for 80 minutes at least.

There is no obvious link between the two parties but there might possibly be one common theme.

Given Papua New Guinea, who France tackle in their World Cup opener at Craven Park tomorrow, have so many affinities with hosts Hull KR, the Kumuls are expecting a large following of Robins.

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Rovers legend Stanley Gene, of course, joined Hull KR after impressing with PNG in the 1995 World Cup and other Papuans who have worn their colours include John Okul and Makali Aizue.

Furthermore, they have signed PNG captain Neville Costigan from NRL side Newcastle Knights for 2014 and two more of the tourists in the shape of little-known Enoch Maki and Francis Paniu.

Agar, the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats coach who was in charge at Hull for three-and-a-half years, told the Yorkshire Post: “PNG have got more affinity with the east side of the river and Hull KR.

“It’s probably one of the reasons the game been nominated to be played at Craven Park.

“But we’re hoping that as Hull fans usually like to do the exact opposite to Rovers they might come down on our side and support France even if it’s just the fact it’s sort of against Hull Kingston Rovers!

“Whatever, we’re looking forward to getting started and it should be a great contest.”

Agar, appointed France coach on a part-time basis in February, sees his side kick-off in what is the trickiest of groups with holders New Zealand and a powerful Samoa also on the agenda.

“Everyone’s been calling ours the Group of Death but I see it hopefully as the Group of Excitement,” he said.

“Hopefully we’ll see some great contests. (Tournament director) Nigel Wood summed it up at the World Cup launch press conference when he said while many see only three teams as potential winners, these five weeks are going to be a celebration of rugby league as a whole.

“Quite often we beat ourselves up from the inside but it’s going to be vibrant and colourful while there’ll be some names – as I saw watching PNG last Saturday – that emerge that people have never heard of and then all of sudden fly onto the radar.

“With the way the tournament is put together there could be some accusations of it being contrived, it actually looks like making for a more exciting tournament and producing some real spectacles.

“I’ve told our guys just to go and enjoy this tournament.

“We all know it’s a challenge in this group but we want our boys to embrace that.”

Papua New Guinea, featuring the powerful Sheffield Eagles centre Menzie Yere, pictured, and Huddersfield Giants second-row Jason Chan, are notoriously one of the hardest teams in world rugby. Agar admitted: “Obviously you get that tough, physical nature from them – you know you’re going to get tackled by those guys – but I watched their game against the Australian Prime Minister XIII and could sense their disappointment after getting whacked by them.

“But since then, they have injected four or five really good experienced players and the progress (coach) Adrian Lam has made in the two or three weeks he’s had them is obvious. They scored some terrific tries and showed great skills against Scotland.”

In their own friendly, meanwhile, France suffered a shock loss to USA but Agar’s confidence is not dimmed.

“It was a trial, we used a lot of players and there was an awful lot of interchanges,” he said. “Of course, we’re disappointed but we’ve got to be objective.

“I thought we defended our try line terrifically well for long periods but we had to do too much. We spent a lot of the 80 minutes playing in own half.

“We each scored four tries apiece but we didn’t kick our goals. We made enough line breaks to say that when we got things right we looked okay.

“Some players will be better for the hitout as some looked like they needed the cobwebs blowing off them, especially our big guys in the middle who hadn’t played for five or six weeks.

“The media will see doom, gloom and disaster, but we know everything is fixable and fixable quickly.”