Agar using ‘Moneyball’ method to boost Wakefield Wildcats’ player recruitment

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WAKEFIELD Wildcats are taking a leaf out the book of another sports club in terms of their player recruitment - and they’re not close to home.

Head coach Richard Agar has revealed he has been playing “a bit of Moneyball” in bringing players to the Merrie City since his arrival at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium.

The term is the title of a best-selling book, and more recently a film starring Brad Pitt, across the pond, focusing on the against-the-odds success of Major League Baseball side the Oakland Athletics.

The A’s, under the guidance of general manager Billy Beane, punch above their weight year-after-year, going head-to-head with big-spending giants such as the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels, despite their relatively small playing budget.

For Oakland Athletics read Wakefield Wildcats. For Billy Beane read Richard Agar.

Wildcats openly admit they currently do not have the finances to trouble the big-hitters such as Wigan Warriors, Warrington Wolves and Leeds Rhinos.

They’re hoping, as with last season’s impressive Super League play-off finish, that their approach to building a competitive and well-rounded squad will pay dividends again in 2013.

“We’ve had a bit of a philosophy on it all,” said Agar.

“We’ve played a bit of Moneyball if you like. We’ve not had the sabermetric principles involved and had a statistician working for us but we’ve worked on the basis of trying to recruit players who will give us value for money.

“We can’t get into competitive bidding wars with clubs, we have to accept that if a player is in good form or if he gets a better offer from somewhere else, then that’s my job to try and get someone on the same wages or less who will do us a job.”

Paul Johnson is one such player who Agar will look to replace this close season after he turned down a new deal at Wakefield to join Hull FC.

The ‘Cats boss won’t just be looking at a player’s abilities on the pitch, however, he’ll also be looking at his qualities off it as part of the new philosophy.

“We’ve got to build some bridges in the public and get the right perception of the club out there for the fans and for the media,” he said.

“We’ve looked for good people, sometimes people who’ve got a point to prove and we work to our strengths in that.

“Within building that team, though, we’ve had to put together a team that’s capable of winning games so we’ve had to get enough offensive players in there to cause people problems.”

Some players who arrive at the club may “have rough edges”, according to Agar, and won’t be the ‘complete player’.

It’s a risk Wakefield have to take if they’re to get the best players possible on the budget available.

“One of the reasons those players will be playing for us and not a top-four team is because they have those rough edges,” said Agar.

“For us it’s about making sure there are far more ticks in the positive boxes than there are in the negative boxes. We’ll show the players love and extract the good stuff from them and play to the best of their assets.

“If someone like Tim Smith misses a tackle that costs us a try we can take that, I’m not going to hang, draw and quarter him because we know he’s a guy that if if you give him the right shape and platform he’ll set tries up for you.”

Agar is unlikely to encounter a situation again in rugby league where he’s faced with a totally new squad at the start of a season.

That was his situation with Wakefield last season when 18 new players were welcomed to the Rapid Solicitors Stadium, some of whom were signed before he was unveiled as head coach to replace the departing John Kear.

But the ‘Moneyball’ philosophy was seen in action with favourable loan deals for Richie Mathers and Paul Sykes, with a loan deal for Lee Smith midway through the campaign made permanent.

“We’ve been to clubs and got players like Richie Mathers and Castleford paid some of his wages,” said the Wildcats boss.

“Sykesy [Paul Sykes] is another one that we managed to get a deal on.”

Sykes has since penned a one-year permanent deal from Bradford Bulls and Wakefield are also expected to announce the permanent capture of full-back Mathers after both were key cogs in Wildcats’ succes sthis year.

Only a handful of new additions will come in over this close season, however, to complement a squad that competed as well as any other in the second half of Super League.

Reece Lyne has already arrived from Agar’s former club Hull FC and the Cats boss is looking at “three or four” NRL-based players to bring to the club for next season, one of whom is Justin Poore, who signed for the club last week.

The ‘Moneyball’ method is working for Agar and Wakefield so far and ‘Cats supporters will be hoping it continues to move them in the right direction.

See this week’s Wakefield Express for all the latest Wakefield Wildcats news.