CHALLENGING situations do not daunt Richard Agar. Indeed, he tends to thrive on them.
Troubled Hull FC were lingering next to bottom of Super League when he took over as head coach there in mid-2008 but they ended up at Wembley a few months later and safe.
Similarly, Wakefield Trinity were in turmoil when Agar arrived at Belle Vue ahead of the 2012 campaign. They were tipped by so many to finish last, only for him to guide them to the play-offs on the competition’s smallest playing budget.
Moreover, anyone who takes on the national French team head coach gig clearly loves a mammoth project.
It should be no surprise, then, that Leeds Rhinos have turned to the 47-year-old to assist in their pressing bid to remove themselves from Super League’s dreaded last spot even if the actual offer was a surprise to Agar.
Leeds, with just two wins from their opening 10 games under new head coach Dave Furner, announced on Sunday that first-team coach James Lowes wanted to move elsewhere, and, sure enough, yesterday he joined the coaching staff of Ealing Trailinfinders rugby union club.
Agar – appointed by director of rugby Kevin Sinfield as Rhinos’ first head of player and coach development in October – stepped into Lowes’s position on the first-team coaching staff while also continuing his other duties at Emerald Headingley.
With an alarmingly porous defence to contend with, and players clearly out of sorts, Agar will look to offer his knowledge and skills to help stop the rot in any way possible.
“The whole situation has come about pretty quickly,” he told The Yorkshire Post.
“There were some conversations over the weekend and it goes without saying that the club is in a tricky spot at the moment.
I guess we’ll review it on a periodic basis; the intention is it’s not a permanent move but this situation alone shows you can’t really take too much for granted in this game.Richard Agar
“I enjoy working with Kev and Dave. I’ve enjoyed my role that I’ve started with the club immensely. But this is an unforeseen situation.
“If this is what the club want me to do to help and contribute – and that’s what they perceive as fit at the moment – then I’m more than happy to work hard and give everything for the club.
“We’ve spoken about both roles and I’m confident with some hard work and good time-management that I can give Dave everything I’ve got but also steer down the path we’ve started with the pathways, too.
“I guess we’ll review it on a periodic basis; the intention is it’s not a permanent move but this situation alone shows you can’t really take too much for granted in this game.”
Agar had worked as first-team coach under former Leeds chief Tony Smith at Warrington Wolves for three years before taking up a role as head of player pathways at NRL club St George Illawarra last season.
He relished that opportunity and, although family reasons prompted his early return, a similar role created at Headingley seemed an ideal fit – so much so that he maintains he never had any urge to return to Super League coaching.
“None whatsoever, not at all; I wasn’t looking and it hadn’t crossed my mind,” responded the former Dewsbury Rams stand-off.
“I loved my time in Australia and now, doing this new role at Leeds, I’m really enjoying my job working with Rob (Burrow) and Jonny (Wainhouse) in the Academy, Mark Butterill with the scholarship and Simon Bell doing some recruitment stuff.
“I started in December and it’s evolving all the time. We think we’re on the right track.
“We’re really confident we’re going to have a production line of kids coming through.
“This (first team) did take me by surprise a little bit but that’s rugby league for you.
“It’s come around quickly but I’ll give Dave and the Rhinos everything I’ve got in terms of hard work and commitment.”
League 1 part-timers Workington Town visit in the Challenge Cup on Friday probably fancying their chances of a shock and still salivating at the sight of shoddy Rhinos crumbling so easily in Thursday’s 45-26 Super League defeat at Hull KR.
So, what is the immediate message for the big-spending eight-times Super League champions who are in danger of finishing in the bottom four for the third time in four years?
“Listen, I’m not carrying any baggage from what’s happened this season or previous difficult seasons at Leeds,” offered Agar, who was assistant coach when Hull beat Rhinos in the 2005 Challenge Cup final.
“I’m very positive. I see there’s still lots of improvement in the team.
“There’s a knowledge they have to strengthen in some areas. But I see good players and a coach who is working really hard and I just want to add something to that.
“Dave is a very hands-on coach anyway – I know that – but I’ve seen the bits where I can help him – and also save him some time.”
Many people attribute Warrington’s strong finish in 2017, when they won 11 of their last dozen games to avert their own relegation threat, down to the growing influence of Agar, who had also reached Old Trafford and Wembley with them the previous year.
Yet he maintained: “I don’t see my long-term career in coaching any more.
“I’m perfectly happy doing the job I am.
“For now, this is absolutely interim.
“If anyone comes in – another coach that Dave might want – I can just step back.
“But if it keeps going and works out then that will be a different conversation for another time.”