Why honest Richard Agar felt he had gone as far as he could with misfiring former champions Leeds Rhinos

IT says a lot about Richard Agar as an individual that less than an hour after Leeds Rhinos announced he had stepped down as head coach, he fronted a press conference to explain exactly why.

Speaking with remarkable honesty, but no bitterness, Agar accepted he has come to the end of the road, at least as far as his time as Leeds’s head coach is concerned.

The coaching baton has been passed, on an interim basis, to one of his assistants, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, working with another, Sean Long and the club’s performance director Richard Hunwicks.

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Agar is clearly upset and disappointed at the way his reign has ended and he has every right to be, but it is the best decision for both his and the club’s long-term future.

Pre Season Friendley. Bradford Bulls v Leeds Rhinos. Rhinos assistant coaches Sean Long and Jamie Jones-Buchanan. 23rd January 2022. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

After Rhinos lost miserably to Hull earlier this month, Agar spoke of not being prepared to “flog a dead horse”.

Though he was more positive ahead of last Friday’s game at Salford Red Devils, the performance – lacking a positive response to the previous week’s debacle – suggested his time was up.

Agar was on a short, rolling contract and the manner of his departure clears the way for him to remain at the club, in an as yet unspecified role.

That will complete the circle, the former Hull and Wakefield Trinity boss having arrived at Leeds in a non-coaching capacity ahead of the 2019 campaign.

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com - 29/07/2021 - Rugby League - Betfred Super League Round 16 - Hull FC v Leeds Rhinos - MKM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull, England - File picture of Richard Agar who has stood down from his role of Leeds Rhinos's head coach today

He took over, after David Furner was sacked following a loss away to Salford, with the team at a low ebb and facing a very real risk of relegation.

Since then, he has had to cope with the coronavirus pandemic and an horrendous list of injuries, but the ship was steadied, Super League status preserved and two fifth-place finishes achieved.

Agar won a trophy, masterminding Leeds’s 2020 Challenge Cup success at Wembley and has introduced several very promising young players to top-flight rugby, but has accepted he isn’t the man to take the team to another level.

Seven weeks ago, it would have been impossible to argue Leeds weren’t in a far better position than when he took charge, in May, 2019.

Leeds Rhinos' Bodene Thompson is tackled by Salford Red Devils' Greg Burke, Andy Ackers and King Vuniyayawa during the Betfred Super League match at the Emerald Headingley Stadium, Leeds. Picture date: Friday March 18, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story RUGBYL Salford. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder.

However, they have gone backwards this season, winning only one of their six Betfred Super League games so far and, on the face of it, are back in a similar situation to three years ago. To his credit, Agar has recognised that, realised he is not getting the best out of Rhinos’ squad and stepped down.

Whether anyone can do better remains to be seen, but the players at Leeds are much better than their results this year suggest.

The current squad should be nowhere near the foot of the table, so obviously something had to be done and the buck always stops with the head coach.

His job was to get the best out of his players and, for whatever reason, that wasn’t happening, but they have to take some responsibility as a group.

Certain individuals have let themselves and their former coach down, but the change has happened with enough time for something to be salvaged from this season.

As in 2018, when Brian McDermott was dismissed and 2019, it appears the club don’t have a long-term candidate in mind.

Almost inevitably, a new team boss takes over when things are going badly and former England international Jones-Buchanan has a big job on his hands.

The squad seem to be a dispirited bunch and if they don’t respond to a character like Jones-Buchanan, who is possibly the most positive, passionate and competitive man in Leeds, there isn’t much hope for any of them.

Technically, there’s probably not a lot needs fixing, though errors and ill-discipline have let them down, but Rhinos’ attitude has to be much better.

If he sorts that out, Jones-Buchanan can certainly inspire an upturn in fortunes.

Realistically, it may be too early in his coaching career for the permanent top job at a huge club like Leeds, but this is an opportunity to stake a claim.

In making a long-term appointment, Rhinos need to find someone who will reflect the status of the club, play the sort of rugby Leeds are famous for and also, perhaps most importantly, be willing to give the talented youngsters in the squad a chance.

It won’t be easy to find someone who ticks all the boxes, but one of the most prestigious jobs in world rugby is on offer and there won’t be a shortage of applicants. It’s vital the club get it right this time.