Hull KR coach Tony Smith eager to tap into Premier League contacts about emerging from lockdown

GIVEN his strong links with both the Premier League and the League Managers’ Association, Hull KR head coach Tony Smith will not be short of information about returning to action after lockdown.

Hull KR's Head Coach Tony Smith during the Betfred Super League match at Craven Park, Hull. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday January 31, 2020. See PA story RUGBYL Hull KR. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use. No false commercial association. No video emulation. No manipulation of images.

Football, of course, made its big comeback during the week and it was certainly an encouraging sight for rugby league fans, even if their sport is still some way behind in plans for its resumption.

Smith, perhaps uniquely, has a foot in both camps; the former Leeds Rhinos and England chief Smith had a break from his first love after leaving Warrington Wolves in 2017, and spent time mentoring football coaches and managers.

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After returning to take on the Robins last June, the 53-year-old Australian – one of the most respected coaches in rugby league – continued some of that work.

Looking back, he told The Yorkshire Post: “It was fantastic and I am still involved.

“I mentor two young managers in the Premier League.

“At one stage I was up to about six. But now I’ve got two who coach at teens level – Paris Bateman at Everton and Matt Morley at Sheffield United.

“The Premier League attaches a unit of people around them to help with their education and coaching.

Picture by Allan McKenzie/ - 01/02/2019 - Rugby League - Betfred Super League - Hull KR v Hull FC - KC Lightstream Stadium, Hull, England - Mitch Garbutt is tackled by Scott Taylor, Sika Manu & Danny Washbrook.

“I’ve still got a really strong association with the LMA, too. They’ve put me in contact with a couple of managers that have needed some support.”

Rugby league clubs are yet to return to training and are not set to start playing again, in all likelihood, until August.

Has Smith looked to any football managers for any tips on how to manage resuming training and playing in light of the various biosecurity measures and other factors that have come into play since coronavirus?

He said: “Not with the Premier League guys. I know that they are very busy so I’ve kept away in recent times.

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - MARCH 07: Sean Dyche, Manager of Burnley prior to the Premier League match between Burnley FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Turf Moor on March 07, 2020 in Burnley, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

“I get on pretty well with Sean Dyche, at Burnley, so I may well check in with him. But I’ve left him alone to get his feet under the table and get back into it.

“I’m not sure if our circumstances in rugby league will be the same as theirs but if there is any similarity I’ll certainly check in on that at some stage.

“I had some initial contact earlier with some other managers at lower league level – mainly League One and League Two –who were in the same boat as us under the same restrictions.”

However, Smith says he has been “encouraged” by recent developments as rugby league, with players, coaches and the majority of staff all furloughed since the end of March, look towards that potential restart.

“The lockdown requirements of the government have been downscaled once again and things are moving fairly quickly,” he said.

“We’ve all been glued to the NRL (matches in Australia returned last month) and what they’re doing.

“I know they’re in a different position to us in terms of their nation and the coronavirus.

“But they’re talking about going back to their own grounds soon and only in the last two weeks the crowd size has gone from ten to 500 fairly quickly.

“Now they’re talking about being limited to 10,000 soon.

“It’s hard to predict how quickly things will progress in our country.

“But I’m encouraged to the point that if we still have to take an amount of precautions – and there’s been quite a detailed paper put forward – I’m still hopeful by the time we return things may have changed a whole lot more again in this country.”

Having won two Grand Finals and a World Club Challenge with Leeds Rhinos as well as three Challenge Cups and a League Leaders’ Shield at Warrington Wolves, there is not much Smith has not achieved in the game of rugby league.

However, as a keen student, he has an insatiable appetite for new learning and clearly he made the most of his time working in football.

“I really enjoyed that association with the LMA and it’s nice to still be able to help,” said Smith, whose first coaching role was with Huddersfield Giants in 2001.

“They were really good with me; they gave me some work to do and I was grateful for that link.

“At the same time, I like to think I gave some value to them and still do.

“It was all very interesting and great to see different cultures in different organisations that I went into.

“I spoke to various managers and went to a number of seminars with league managers, being part of it but also getting some education from it.

“It was fascinating and I learned a whole lot of things.”

With the coaches he is currently mentoring, Smith added: “I’ve kept in touch with them via video link during this (Covid) but normally we meet face to face.

“Paris came with me to the Wigan game last year after I took over at Hull KR.

“He met up with us pre-game and spent the evening with us.

“Once we’re able, I’ve got intentions for them both to come over and see us training, to spend some time observing how I coach and manage.

“But it’s all about sharing ideas and one-on-one learning with each other. It’s a fantastic programme put together by the Premier League.”

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