Challenge Cup final: Early lessons serve Leeds Rhinos head coach Richard Agar well

As an 11-year-old, Richard Agar spent the aftermath of the 1983 Challenge Cup final compiling a statistical analysis as his father watched back the video of Featherstone Rovers’ 14-12 victory over Hull FC.

It was all part of growing up with dad Allan being both a high-profile rugby league player and later coach, and in an environment where the likes of Roger Millward, Brian Lockwood and Nigel Stephenson were regular visitors to the Agars’ house.

It is perhaps, therefore, no surprise Agar would follow him into the sport, although it is his coaching career rather than his playing one as a dependable stand-off for the likes of Dewsbury Rams, Featherstone and Widnes Vikings which has seen him scale the sport’s heights.

🦏 @LeedsRhinos are on their way to @WembleyStadium…

🏆 @Coral #ChallengeCup pic.twitter.com/gowLGg1AgE

On Saturday, the 48-year-old will have an opportunity to emulate his father’s achievements with Rovers 37 years ago when his Leeds Rhinos side face Salford Red Devils in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley and some lessons learnt from those formative years have served him well.

“I think I was very privileged to grow up in and around that,” Leeds head coach Agar said. “A lot of our family friends were probably household names within the game.

“I was privy to a lot of knowledge and a lot of good times in those periods.

“I’ve been around to experience Wembley finals but I’ve also seen the other side of it and the impact when my dad has quit his job or moved on, so I’ve been prepared for that emotional side of it and the impact on families as well.

“I’ve been lucky that I’ve had a grounding, but I would say it’s probably only as I’ve worked my way up and got into Super League you really understand the depths and mechanics of what makes a club work.”

Contrary to what many people might assume, though, father and son do not converse about rugby very often and Richard has been very much left by Allan to forge his own path in the sport, with the 70-year-old preferring just to sit back and enjoy watching these days.

In any case, Agar junior has more than proven himself in a coaching career which has seen him hold various Super League positions with Hull FC, Wakefield Trinity and Warrington Wolves prior to his current role, work in the NRL with St George-Illawarra Dragons and even lead the French national team at a World Cup.

He has been able to make it a full-time vocation as well, unlike his father’s era when all of the clubs were part-time and everyone had day-jobs outside of the sport. Indeed, no fewer than 13 of Featherstone’s 1983 Cup-winning squad worked as miners in the area.

I’ve been around to experience Wembley finals but I’ve also seen the other side of it and the impact when my dad has quit his job or moved on, so I’ve been prepared for that emotional side it and the impact on families as well.

Richard Agar

Of course, Agar knows all about juggling the responsibilities of his working, family and sporting life from his first professional head coach appointment with part-timers York City Knights in 2003 too – an experience which solidified a work ethic which still serves him well to this day.

“I go back to my times at York when my son had just been born,” Agar said. “You’re a father with a 12-month-old baby and I’m up to midnight cutting film because I knew I’d got a full day’s work to come, and by the time you get in your car at four o’clock you’ve got no time to be cutting video.

“To juggle that with family commitments, to make sure you’re doing right by your players and giving them everything they need does give you a work ethic.

“Taking phone calls from players at 10 or 11 o’clock at night and working until midnight on your cuts gives you a good grounding. When you get into full-time, it becomes a little bit easier on your life.”

Agar knows exactly what to expect on Saturday as well, having steered Hull FC to Wembley in 2008 where they finished runners-up to St Helens – albeit without spectators to cheer the teams this time on due to coronavirus restrictions.

That lack of a crowd does not diminish the occasion for Agar, though, and while he has made no secret of the personal connection he has to the Challenge Cup, he wants the final to be a day for the players to take the spotlight as Leeds aim to start winning silverware again after the struggles of 2018 and 2019.

“I’m lucky enough that I’ve experienced these occasions before,” Agar said. “I’ll never take it for granted and it’s always a wonderful time, but I’m more excited for our boys on many different levels.

“We’ve got some young players for whom it’s their first time in an occasion like this, we’ve got some others right at the other end of the scale like Luke Gale who is 32 years old and it’s his first Challenge Cup final, and the Australian guys get to experience something that doesn’t occur in the NRL because they don’t have a knock-out cup competition.

I’m lucky enough that I’ve experienced these occasions before. I’ll never take it for granted and it’s always a wonderful time, but I’m more excited for our boys on many different levels.

Richard Agar

“We’re off two tough years for a club like this and to be able to turn the corner within 12 months to find ourselves in the top four and in a Challenge Cup final, I’m really pleased for the people internally here.”

Source: Read Full Article