Richard Agar and Ian Watson ready for grandest stage after long roads to the top

When Richard Agar ended the Challenge Cup final press conference by asking Ian Watson whether he’s wearing a suit at Wembley, it spoke volumes about Saturday's opposing coaches.

Both men would prefer to don tracksuits, having worked their way up rugby league’s professional ladder from the lower rungs.

Watson played just 46 Super League games, for the Red Devils and Workington, but spent the majority of his career at the likes of Swinton, Rochdale and Oldham.

Agar never made it to the top flight at his primary club Dewsbury, with the pair crossing paths numerous times on the field and playing briefly alongside each other at Widnes in 2001.

Their coaching journeys started outside the elite too, with Watson a player boss in the Championship and Agar starting at amateurs Featherstone Lions before moving onto York.

Now they are rated as two of the sharpest minds in the sport – and Watson believes his education in rugby league’s part-time ranks was invaluable.

He explained: “I’m a big fan of the Championship – there’s proper commitment there to be a street rugby player more than anything. You look at Super League and see the athletes playing the game now, and some of them won't be as educated as some of those Championship players.

“When you're down at the lower level you have to have a love for the game and an understanding of the game and of your position. I think that’s something that myself and Richard did have – we wanted to play and wanted to win.

“Everyone was a competitor. In the Championship there's no one who plays just to play rugby, otherwise you’d just go play amateur with your mates. What you want to do is win, and get the extra kind of money that the Championship brings. It gives you a good schooling for when you come up into Super League.”

Watson was still playing part-time at Leigh when Agar led Hull FC to the 2008 Challenge Cup final. Agar says he is a “radically” different coach 12 years on – having built up a significant CV of experience that started on his local amateur fields.

He said: “One thing about coming out of the Championship and not having an illustrious blue chip career is you probably have to work a little bit harder at the lower end of the game. I only ever saw that as a benefit.

“My first ever jobs were Featherstone Lions in the Conference when I was still playing and England Students. When I look back on that I realise I made so many mistakes but mistakes that the players probably didn’t know that I was making. It’s been a 20-odd year journey for myself and one I’m still learning on.”

From those humble beginnings, Agar and Watson will be key figures on the country’s biggest sporting stage on Saturday.

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