Written by Callum Walker
It’s never much fun to be a Rugby League head coach taking over a side that’s been losing and is in danger of dropping down a league. So when Richard Agar took Leeds to eighth position in 2019 – and four points above the relegated London Broncos – he earned a lot of fans amongst the Rhinos faithful.
For a club that had been so used to success in the modern Super League era, the years following the 2017 Grand Final had been barren to say the least. Brian McDermott was sacked in July 2018 after winning four Grand Finals and two Challenge Cups, replaced by Dave Furner whose impact was minimal to say the least.
With Furner’s sacking, in stepped Agar who had only been at the club for less than a year as interim boss. That became permanent in September last year as the former Wakefield and Hull head coach steered the Rhinos away from relegation.
A rebuilding phase began with Agar stepping into the transfer market to sign Luke Gale, Matt Prior, Alex Mellor and Kruise Leeming. All four have played a major role for Leeds in 2020 with veteran Richie Myler switching to fullback.
At 32 and 30 years of age respectively, Gale and Myler are not exactly spring chickens. In fact, they have often been ridiculed for being “past it”. And, after practically two years out with injury, it was a gamble for Leeds to take on halfback Gale.
However, the decisions to bring Gale to the club and move Myler to number one must be two of the greatest masterstrokes in recent Leeds history. Both have excelled and brought superb leadership skills to a team that was struggling for experience and both proved vital in the Rhinos’ 17-16 Challenge Cup victory over Salford at the weekend.
— Leeds Rhinos (@leedsrhinos) October 19, 2020
Of course, Gale’s one-pointer ultimately proved the difference, but it was Myler that received the Lance Todd trophy, highlighting the importance of the diminutive duo to the Leeds side.
To make matters more special for Gale, it was his first piece of major silverware – not including the 2017 League Leaders’ Shield – and it was Myler’s first since 2012. The outpouring of emotion from both showed just how much it mattered and vindicated their decision to join the club (Gale) and stay and fight for a position when it would have been easier to leave (Myler).
Add into the mix that this was Agar’s first piece of major silverware as head coach (he had been assistant when Hull FC beat Leeds in 2005) and it truly was a historic moment. Whilst the 48-year-old has sometimes been the subject of criticism following his spell at Wakefield, Saturday’s final proved his mettle.
Yes, Leeds only needed to win two games to get to Wembley – Hull KR and Wigan were the ones the Rhinos had to bypass – but they can only play what’s in front of them. A 26-12 battering of Wigan in the semi-finals underlined Leeds’ potential to go the whole way.
That potential proved to be reality as the Rhinos celebrated in an incredibly eerie Wembley Stadium, crowning their first piece of silverware since 2015. And, at the head of that victory was the trio that has been written off so many times in the past.