Out to prove them wrong
TIM BUTCHER talks to head coach RICHARD AGAR about Wakefield’s prospects for the 2014 season.
Richard Agar has got to be the most creative coach in Super League.
When he first joined the Wildcats in September 2011 he had to recruit a Super League side from scratch, the Wakefield club having that season confidently expected to lose its licence and budgeted for that outcome, until the Crusaders’ sudden demise saved their Super League status.
Fast forward two years, and Agar has pretty much had to do it all again and assemble at least half a team as most of his star turns were sold to alleviate a debt crisis that threatened to pull the club under. Among the players through the exit door were three props, plus two of the top performers in the last two seasons, hooker Paul Aiton and mercurial scrum-half Tim Smith.
“We’ve got some new dynamics in our team, we have to see how it all fits in,” says Agar.
“Not that we are panicking. We have had an off-season of uncertainty. Given the circumstances we were faced with, at least the immediate future of the club was secured. It’s tough and tight but we all know the rules under which we operate.”
It’s reported the Wildcats’ playing budget will be £400,000 less than other clubs, but Agar reckons he has bought wisely and hopes to be more than competitive.
Aiton’s departure to Leeds was a dark cloud but came with a sliver lining with the consequent availability of Paul McShane.
“I’m excited about Paul,” says Agar.
“I’ve followed his career a from being an under-16s player with Hunslet. I like his style of play. His status within our team will be different to the one he has just left. We’ll be looking for him to take a more senior role with us and he is probably at the stage of his career when he needs that. He has a tremendous skill set and a good vision, he sees things some other people can’t see.
“There was no bigger admirer of Paul Aiton than me, but Paul (McShane) will bring us a different style from dummy-half and another dimension to our team. I know he has a different position but Paul can really help fill the void that has been left creatively by Timmy Smith.”
Smith’s direct replacement, at least currently, with Aussie halfback Harry Siejka still being linked with the Wildcats, is Samoa’s Pita Godinet.
“When I spoke to his agent at the end of last season, he was on the top of our list, but he wasn’t thinking about Super League at all,” says Agar.
“What made him re-assess was the World Cup. He came over and enjoyed everything about England and enjoyed the country and crowds and changed his mind. We were thankful that once we got back to the table we got a deal worked out really quickly. He’s got a lot of football in front of him.”
With three props leaving, the rest of Agar’s signings are forwards.
Prop Scott Anderson: “He’s played two Grand Finals so he comes with experience. We think we are getting a big-game experienced frontrower who is keen to come to England and is excited about the challenge.”
Matt Ryan: “He came to the NRL late but he is a fairly young guy. To make the Prime Minister’s team from a struggling Parramatta team a couple of years ago was a fair effort from him. He will give us something a little different in our attack with his size (he’s 6ft 5) and he has got some footwork and speed and an offload.
“Richard (Moore) is a popular guy who is going to do a terrific job for us. He is a popular member of the team already. He’s looking forward to getting the minutes he has not had over the last season or two.”
Another prop, Daniel Smith, was the first of the new recruits, after a year in the South Sydney under-20s.
“I saw Dan play for South Sydney in an under 20s play-off game and he played 80 minutes,” says Agar.
“He’s a young frontrower and we need to develop some frontrowers in England. He’s different, he’s a bit of a natural footballer. He’s impressed me in training and he impressed me on Boxing Day (the 18-all draw at Leeds). Given the right opportunity and time he could potentially flourish.”
Agar is not only creative in his recruitment; he is also phlegmatic, starting behind the eight-ball for the second time in two years, having seen the heart ripped out of the team he had built against the odds.
“While we didn’t want to lose the players we did and become a selling club, we understand the circumstances,” he reflects.
“We were sad they went but we are proud that we have had some guys in our camp for a couple of years who have all increased their market value.
“A lot of people will understandably expect us to be in the relegation mix.
“But if we can get the same rate of improvement and build up the same camaraderie with this group and knit them together as a new team, we might prove them wrong.”
CLOSE SEASON INJURY REPORT
Lee Smith – knee clean-out, Could be back for warm-up against Huddersfield.
Andy Raleigh – wrist op, hoping to be back for his Testimonial game against Huddersfield.
Reece Lyne – missed Boxing Day with minor rib cartilage injury. May be back this weekend at Featherstone.
Wakefield have snared a NRL Premiership winner in former Melbourne and Brisbane prop Scott Anderson. Having played off the bench in the 2008 40-nil hammering by Manly, Anderson was back playing the same role the next year in the Storm’s 23-16 Grand Final win over Parramatta. A four-year spell at Brisbane followed but bad luck with injuries restricted him to 50 games with the Broncos.
By no means a total unknown in the light of the World Cup, in which he played in all four games for Samoa at hooker and halfback, scoring a try each against PNG and France. 2013 looked like the year he might break into the NZ Warriors first grade as he played ten matches in the NRL last year. Hard to judge how he will go in Super League but he is an elusive type.
McShane could turn out to be Agar’s master signing. Having made his Leeds debut early in 2009 as a 19 year old, he was waiting in the wings behind Danny Buderus and Matt Diskin and had spells on loan at Hull and Widnes, where he was a stand-out. He played 24 games in 2013 but the signing of Paul Aiton at the end of the season meant he was on the outer. He must be highly motivated and no-one can deny his talent.
Moore played over 100 games for Wakefield in a four-year spell between 2007 and 2010 and probably enjoyed the best form of his much-travelled career. A tenacious runner with the ball, the prop is adept at getting a pass out of the tackle and he threatens to re-establish himself as a fans’ favourite at Belle Vue.
Rangy prop/second row Matt Ryan was just shy of 24 years old when he made his first grade debut for Parramatta and went on to play 17 games that season. He impressed enough to be selected for the Australian Prime Minister’s XIII that played PNG at the end of the season. He only played seven games last year during Ricky Stuart’s tenure at the Eels but has the size and skill to be a major presence for the Wildcats.
Former Leeds Academy prop Daniel Smith was an early victim of the cull of the under-20s at the end of 2012 and went to chance his arm with South Sydney under-20s. He didn’t get a first-grade contract but by all accounts went well, well enough for Richard Agar to give him a chance. The former Lock Lane junior stood up well in the Boxing Day friendly at Leeds and he’s got plenty of development still in him.
WILDCATS TOP OPTA PERFORMERS IN 2013
Danny Washbrook 13082
Tim Smith 12405
Andy Raleigh 11325
Paul Aiton 11025
Ben Cockayne 10419
Wildcats squad 2014
1 Richard Mathers
2 Peter Fox
3 Dean Collis
4 Lee Smith
5 Reece Lyne
6 Paul Sykes
7 Pita Godinet
8 Scott Anderson
9 Paul McShane
10 Andy Raleigh
11 Ali Lauitiiti
12 Danny Kirmond
13 Danny Washbrook
14 Matty Wildie
15 Matt Ryan
16 Richard Moore
17 Taulima Tautai
18 Kyle Trout
21 Chris Annakin
22 Lucas Walshaw
23 Daniel Smith
24 Jordan Crowther
25 Max Jowitt
26 Jon Molloy
27 Ben Shulver
Scott Anderson (Brisbane Broncos – prop)
Pita Godinet (New Zealand Warriors – halfback)
Paul McShane (Leeds Rhinos – hooker)
Richard Moore (Leeds Rhinos – prop)
Matt Ryan (Parramatta – second row)
Daniel Smith (South Sydney -prop)
Paul Aiton (Leeds Rhinos)
Kyle Amor (St Helens)
Ben Cockayne (Hull KR)
Liam Kay (Leigh Centurions)
Frankie Mariano (Castleford Tigers)
Vince Mellars (released)
Justin Poore (Hull KR)
Tim Smith (Salford Red Devils)
Oliver Wilkes (Leigh Centurions)
Danny Cowling (Halifax)