Cameron Smith turning on the style for Leeds Rhinos

REVITALISED Cameron Smith is intent on proving there is scope for ball-handling loose forwards in the modern game – and that Leeds Rhinos head coach Richard Agar does not need a big-name recruit.

Cameron Smith on the attack for Leeds Rhinos against Hull KR. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

The 21-year-old has been one of the club’s most impressive performers in their start to the Super League season, not only because of his obvious work ethic but the subtle touches he has brought to their attacking game.

Since making his debut for Rhinos in 2016, Smith has shown his versatility by playing all over the park including back-row, stand-off, hooker and even filling in at centre.

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However, loose forward has always remained his favoured position and he is now making it his own after Trent Merrin’s off-season move back to Australia.

Not only that but Smith, who hails from Castleford, is playing with real style, his handling skills coming to the fore in the middle of the park for Agar’s side.

For a long time, many Super League coaches have tended to use an extra prop in the No13 position but Smith is glad his coach has given him the chance to play with such freedom.

He admits former Australia international Merrin, the ‘marquee’ signing who unexpectedly rejoined St George Illawarra in November, has played an important role in his development, too.

“I am loving it at the moment,” Smith told The Yorkshire Post, as Leeds aim for a fourth successive win when Toronto Wolfpack visit on Thursday.

INFLUENTIAL: Former Leeds Rhinos' star Leeds' Trent Merrin. Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

“It’s something I’ve worked hard for in pre-season and I’m just grateful I’ve been given the chance to show what I can do in that role.

“It’s been a good start but it’s important I don’t get carried away.

“When Trent was here, I had conversations with Rich about studying under him, learning some of his traits and hopefully becoming that sort of player.

“He was extremely skilful and also agile for a big fella. He did a lot of one-on-one stuff with me, giving me little tips like knowing which defender to play on and when to pass and when to hold.

Leeds Rhinos' head coach Richard Agar.

“There aren’t many ball-playing 13s around and I really want to bring that game and get more expansive. It suits me.

“When Trent went back home, I wanted to get my foot in the door and show what I could do.

“I didn’t want them to go out and buy some big-name signing to fill that 13 shirt.

“That is part of my drive; to keep that spot and build on it game by game.”

Smith is certainly doing that having started in the opening four games at loose forward before coming off the bench in Friday’s stunning 36-0 win over much-fancied Warrington Wolves.

The way he has been taking the ball to the line and making incisive passes is remisniscent at times of another son of Castleford – the great Steve ‘Knocker’ Norton – although Smith’s influences are more contemporary than the legendary ‘70s star.

“Growing up I modelled my game on the likes of Andy Farrell and Sean O’Loughlin – who’s still playing now – and even Kev (Sinfield) when he was playing in that 13 role,” added the player, who captained England at Under-16 level and represented England Knights against Jamaica last autumn.

“It’s like playing as an extra pivot but the defence doesn’t know whether you’ll pass or carry.

“That creative 13 role has seemed to fizzle out in the game with the majority of coaches going for an extra big man in the middle.

“Rich has given me that chance and I want to prove to him we can run with a 13 like this.”

Leeds’s only loss was the opening-day defeat to Hull FC and they hope to press on against Toronto this week.

Of course, the Super League newcomers – managed by former Rhinos coach Brian McDermott – have still yet to win but Smith maintains they will not take them lightly.

“It seems they are a team just fighting for that win and they don’t look like they’ll take a backwards step,” he added.

“They’ll be chasing hard for that victory, especially at Headingley and with Brian Mac coming back for the first time.

“He was really good with me here; he was just a dead honest bloke and you knew what you were going to get from him. When I was a young kid coming through, he taught me a lot about mental toughness and the hard stuff.

“You’re probably seeing now the seed he planted when I was 17, 18 and I’m looking forward to seeing him on Thursday.”

Meanwhile, one of Rhinos’ most highly-rated youngsters, Corey Johnson, has quit rugby league, aged just 19.

The club say the England academy hooker has retired to “focus on a career outside the sport”.

Johnson made his first team debut in the final game of last season and played in Rhinos’ opening pre-season match on Boxing Day.

Club officials have tried to persuade Johnson to change his mind, but a deal has now been agreed for him to leave the club.

The door has been left open for him to return if he rediscovers his love for the sport.