Mark Applegarth has lifted the lid on his exit from Wakefield Trinity for the first time, insisting he holds no grudges against the club’s new ownership for replacing him and that he is keen to get back into coaching as soon as possible.
Applegarth left his boyhood club after just one season as head coach, in which Wakefield were relegated to the Championship for the first time in over 20 years.
The takeover of the club, spearheaded by local businessman Matt Ellis, led to Applegarth being replaced by Daryl Powell for the 2024 season, with Applegarth ultimately leaving the club in pursuit of a new opportunity.
Speaking exclusively to Love Rugby League, Applegarth admitted while he was disappointed to lose his job, he has no bad blood with Wakefield’s new owners or Powell.
“I had a chat with Matt and Daryl about their vision for the club, and it’s going to be excellent,” Applegarth said.
“Matt’s got a lot of ideas other Super League clubs will pick on and over the next five years, Wakefield Trinity will be one of the places to be.
“For me personally, it’s disappointing. I completely understand Matt’s reasons for it, and him and Daryl have my best wishes.
“There’s no point getting too down about it, you’ve just got to stay nice and level. I’ll dust myself down and look for that next opportunity wherever it may be.
“I won’t be looking back with any bitterness: I’m a Wakefield boy who supports Wakefield and I’ll be cheering them on.
“It would have been nice to see it through because the idea was to ride this year out and show what a new-look club could do, but that’s life.”
‘No animosity there whatsoever’ with new Wakefield coach Daryl Powell
Applegarth did meet Powell to hold talks about potentially retaining a role in the set-up under the former Warrington and Castleford coach but said that ‘out of mutual respect’ an agreement wasn’t reached.
“I met with Daryl for an informal chat,” he said.
“There’s no animosity there whatsoever and there was no official offer, but that was more after a private chat with Daryl and where I saw myself going and where he wanted me at the club.
“We never got round to sorting a role but I don’t think that was out of anything other than a mutual respect.”
Mark Applegarth says he leaves Belle Vue with his head held high despite relegation
Applegarth admitted he knew the job of keeping Wakefield afloat this year would be tough when he accepted the role.
With the club on a reduced playing budget after investing finances towards the redevelopment of Belle Vue, he said the task was one he was ready for, but insisted he leaves with his head held high despite Trinity’s relegation.
He said: “I knew the challenge when I started.
“I knew it would be a tough year but with the stadium finally coming to fruition, the plan all along was to suck this year up and ride the storm through a tough year.
“But I’m really proud of how the group stayed together. We were 15 or 16 games without a win and how they stuck together is amazing. I have so much respect for so many of those guys.
“I understand you get judged on results but I think if I look back in 10 years’ time and I’m still coaching, one of my proudest achievements would be keeping that group together under the circumstances we faced.
“I felt ready to take the job, and the best judge of that would be the players at the club. I’d like to think under extreme circumstances I held it together pretty well, and I had a lot to offer.
“I never felt out of my depth, and I felt at home in the role. That’s not to say I found it easy because it was challenging, but it was a challenge that always excited me.
“I just tried to be myself and honest, authentic. I didn’t want to give any churned-out or made-up answers to the press; when I felt I’d got my tactics wrong I’d tell people with sheer honesty – I always wanted to conduct myself properly. How I was publicly was how I conducted myself with the group.”
Being open-minded about what his next role may look like
And the 38-year-old admits the experience of coaching Wakefield has not soured his appetite to take up a position elsewhere – with Applegarth open-minded about what his next role in the sport may look like, refusing to rule out taking a job other than a head coaching position.
“I’m not one to sit still,” he said. “I’ve put a post on LinkedIn the other day and it felt like leaving school.
“Where do you go looking for jobs, how do you find them? You’re being released into the big wide world.
“Let’s see what comes of it all, I’ll be open to opportunities but I feel like I’ve got a lot to offer a club and I think people would vouch for that.
“I’m excited but there’s also a bit of nervousness. When you’re in a good coaching setup you have a head coach and assistants, but they all work together. There’s no ego on me in that sense; if there’s a good project, I’d love to work on it but the jobs are few and far between.
“There might be something outside rugby, I’m open-minded. But I’ve still got that passion to coach.
“I’ll look back on this year with pride in the sense of it was an honour and a privilege to coach Wakefield Trinity.
“I’m really sorry it didn’t work out how everyone wanted, me included, but I genuinely believe that club is ready to kick on now.
“But without Michael Carter and the other directors getting it to this point, there’d be no club. I hope that’s remembered in the years to come.”