I can’t pretend that I was massively surprised this morning when the news came through about Richard Agar’s departure from the Leeds Rhinos.
Five defeats from six is a concerning start to the season for any side, even more so one that has seen serious investment in the off-season, and was expecting to be competing for honours in 2022.
For whatever reason, Leeds just haven’t been able to get going this season. Barring a brave 12 man performance in the defeat against Warrington, and 40 good minutes against Wakefield, the Rhinos have looked flat, uninspired, even uninterested in the opening six rounds.
From the outside looking in, it’s very difficult to put a finger on why things have gone so wrong. They signed what looked to be a package deal Halfback pairing by reuniting former Canberra teammates Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer; two players looking for fresh starts after stagnant ends to their time at their former clubs, but two players with undeniable talent.
Add to this, the fact that this pair would be coached by one of the greatest to ever play in their position in Sean Long, and that they would have eye-catching talent such Ash Handley and Jack Walker playing outside of them, I like many was convinced that Leeds would be this seasons great entertainers in the Betfred Super League.
Ultimately that hasn’t come to pass, and whilst a large portion of the blame must sit with the players, accountability always eventually rests at the door of the Head Coach, and alas, Agar has made the decision to step down.
Richard is a top guy, ask anyone who works in the sport and they’ll tell you of a man who conducts himself with real professionalism and honesty, not afraid to front up to the big questions and take responsibility when things weren’t going to plan.
He didn’t do a bad job for Leeds either. He took over a ship in desperate need of steadying in 2019 and quietly oversaw a rebuilding process. He delivered silverware in 2020, and led the Rhinos to the semi-finals in 2021. Ultimately though it looks as if he has taken the Rhinos as far as he could, and this is something he acknowledges himself;
“I just plain and simply feel that I’ve not had a big enough impact on the team. As a Head Coach, based on form and performances, I feel that I needed to have a stronger impact on where we’re at and how we’re turning out and perhaps I’ve taken the team as far as I can, and they may need a fresh voice.”
The next question that needs answering then, is who should that fresh voice be?
With the vacancy coming up so early in the season, there isn’t really a tried and tested, track-record Betfred Super League Head Coach waiting in the wings to takeover, so it will be interesting to see what approach the Rhinos take from here.
Will they look down under and bring in an Australian coach, something that has proved very successful for St Helens recently, or will they give their job to an unproven British coach, looking to cut their teeth in the big time?
The former would certainly be brave. Afterall, Leeds are arguably the biggest club in the Northern Hemisphere; a genuine sporting powerhouse in one of the most recognisable cities in the country.
That said, bringing in someone from the NRL is not always a surefire route to success, and there are a number of recently retired players with good Betfred Super League stock who may fancy their chances.
One of these is of course none other than Leeds legend Danny McGuire. One of the greatest Halfbacks ever, now learning his trade as a Coach under the watchful eye of Tony Smith at Hull KR.
McGuire would certainly be a popular appointment with the supporters at Headingley, and given his pedigree and position, he might feel he has the key to unlock the potential of Sezer and Austin as Halfback pairing. If anyone knows how to get a 6 & 7 singing, it’s surely him.
Another homegrown option that has been mentioned a few times is Danny Ward. The former Leeds forward had success with London Broncos, leading them back to the Betfred Super League, and could be ready to have another crack at the top flight.
Ward has however recently taken a job in the capital in third tier Rugby Union, which could be a sign of his reluctance to relocate his family back to Yorkshire.
Speaking of coaches with Championship pedigree, how about Ryan Carr? The young Australian made a real impression with Featherstone Rovers before returning home for family reasons. Could the Rhinos job be big enough to lure him back to British Rugby League?
The Leeds hierarchy face an interesting balancing act in this process. They need to make sure that they are thorough in their search, but also that they give the new guy enough time to salvage this season. CEO Gary Hetherington says they have a clear idea of what they are looking for however;
“It’s a pretty demanding job. I think any Super League Head Coach job is demanding, but even more so at Leeds Rhinos. It needs a person with special personal qualities, with ability, desire & determination, and all the facets that you look for.”
Given the hype around Leeds at the start of the season, it seems remarkable that we’re talking about this just 6 weeks in, and it’s certainly not obvious what will happen next.
One thing is certain however; Leeds Rhinos are, once again, and the start of a rebuilding process. Interesting times for one of our game’s most famous clubs.
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