INCOMING Brian Smith hasn’t been short of people telling him where Wakefield Trinity Wildcats are going wrong – the Australian coach even getting a “traditional” Yorkshire welcome in his local supermarket.
But, at 61, he has made a career of making teams better, something clearly required now with Trinity sat bottom having lost 15 Super League games successively.
Smith arrived in the country nine days ago but only watched from the background as they fell to Leeds Rhinos on Sunday.
Tomorrow, though, he takes charge for the first time as Salford Red Devils, the next worst team in the competition, arrive at Belle Vue. Smith, last a head coach in the UK at Hull FC from 1988 to 1990 and Bradford Bulls in 1996, is not expecting instant dividends – he has mindsets and cultures to change not just results.
But he is heartened by the response he has had, not just from the confidence-drained players but the supporters as well.
“I’ve not been anywhere much yet apart from work and home but I did meet someone at Sainsburys when I went out for my first killing for food and sustenance,” explained the former teacher.
“He was a Smith, too. He looked at me and walked past and then we went up the next aisle and he was there waiting for me.
“He gave me the benefit of his unabashed support for Wakefield and all the things I needed to fix.
“I didn’t have a notepad with me but I got most of it. That was a traditional Yorkshire welcome.”
What Smith has learned himself so far is the side he inherited from James Webster, first and foremost, need to be far tougher.
“The level we train at here is not the level I’ve been at times in the past in Australia,” said a man who has inspired Ilawarra Steelers, St George, Newcastle Knights, Parramatta Eels and Sydney Roosters at various points.
“I know these lads can train at a higher level than the one they’re at currently. We’ll do it slowly although we did have one session (Wednesday) that did rattle their cages a little bit.
“There was a bit more contact and intensity than they would normally have at this time of year.
“We need to improve that aspect of our game; the collision in the sport today is a massive determinate on whether you win or lose and we lost way too many against Leeds. So we’ve got to set about trying to fix it.”
Of course, it would be easy to just expect a first league win since February when Salford arrive tomorrow; a new coach often has that instant effect and their opponents have lost eight successive games themselves.
“We definitely want an effect,” offered Smith, who has lost Richard Owen and Craig Hall to injuries but has ex-Leeds Rhinos prop Ian Kirke back from a broken thumb and young Max Jowitt.
“Whether the effects create wins is ultimately what we all get judged on. For me winning is always the goal but it’s also about performance.
“I am really pleased with attitudes. The guys have responded really well. They should as well. They should be looking for something to spark them.
“They’ve responsibilities. James Webster paid a heavy price, as all coaches do when they get moved on, but players have to face up to their bit of the bargain as well. Their response to me has been excellent in that regard. The next bit is where it matters – out there (points to the pitch).”
For Smith, his innate love of the game is clear, especially being back among players, even if it is at a club striving to avoid being dragged into the relegation mire as opposed to the four different ones he led to NRL Grand Finals.
“It’s two and a half years since I’ve been out there on any grass, apart from mine on the farm,” he said, his last job being Roosters.
“So it was exciting for me. It’s my life’s work. It’s the thing I’ve enjoyed doing for as long as I can remember. I loved playing but I loved coaching more in a different sense because it makes me feel of value.
“There’s nothing better than a fence and goalposts and grass with a few line markings on it to make me happy.”
Hopefully the fence, goalposts, grass and line-markings at Belle Vue will have created particular joy and glee come 5pm tomorrow.