'I fully support that role': Leeds Rhinos boss Rohan Smith not threatened by sporting director decision

Rohan Smith does not view the shake-up of Leeds Rhinos' performance department as a threat to his position after welcoming the decision to appoint a new sporting director.

The club revealed their intention to restructure the rugby operation earlier this week in a significant development at Headingley.

The sporting director will "provide strategic direction, leadership and oversight" of the performance department, including autonomy over player and staff retention and recruitment.

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Chief executive Gary Hetherington has led Leeds' performance department since he and chairman Paul Caddick took over the club at the end of the 1996 Super League season, other than from 2019 to 2021 when Kevin Sinfield was director of rugby.

"I fully support that role," insisted Smith. "It's one that's been spoken about on and off for a period of time.

"The club went that way in the past and it's something plenty of other Super League clubs are doing and NRL clubs I've worked at have had a very similar role to that. Then there's the Premier League and most other sports now.

"It makes a lot of sense. It's a big organisation now and there's a lot going on so I think it's a great thing to support me and the staff that work with the players each day.

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"It's probably a little bit less time on processes, admin and systems – behind the scenes stuff. It'll allow me more time to be with the players and staff which will only be beneficial to the club, I believe."

Rohan Smith is relaxed about the creation of a new role at Headingley. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)Rohan Smith is relaxed about the creation of a new role at Headingley. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
Rohan Smith is relaxed about the creation of a new role at Headingley. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

Smith is under mounting pressure after a disappointing start to the Super League campaign, with a section of the fanbase calling for him to be sacked.

The Rhinos reached the Grand Final in Smith's first season but failed to qualify for the play-offs last year and are seventh ahead of Saturday's West Yorkshire derby against Castleford Tigers at Headingley.

One of the sporting director's first tasks will be to undertake a review of the rugby department but Smith does not feel threatened by the appointment.

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"I welcome it," he said. "I think it's a great appointment and a great decision by the board to seek a new appointment there.

Rohan Smith has struggled to get the Rhinos firing in the past 18 months. (Photo: Ed Sykes/SWpix.com)Rohan Smith has struggled to get the Rhinos firing in the past 18 months. (Photo: Ed Sykes/SWpix.com)
Rohan Smith has struggled to get the Rhinos firing in the past 18 months. (Photo: Ed Sykes/SWpix.com)

"It's a complementary role to the coaching job. It sits between the CEO and the football operation.

"It oversees the football operation in which myself and Matt Cook as the general manager lead the Kirkstall division. We're going to have another person there to oversee that.

"The club have made it very clear that they're going after someone that is very experienced and prepared for such a job. It won't be a rookie so it'll be someone I can get support off and learn from, and support them and work on the operation together."

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Smith has borne the brunt of the fans' frustrations in recent months with the Rhinos seemingly a long way behind their traditional rivals.

The Rhinos were well beaten by St Helens last week. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)The Rhinos were well beaten by St Helens last week. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)
The Rhinos were well beaten by St Helens last week. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)

Asked if he was fighting for his job, the 43-year-old replied: "I feel pressure and understand pressure.

"I've only been around coaching my whole life. I don't feel any more or less than normal.

"I understand the magnitude of this club and what it means to people. We're all disappointed with some of the performances – or parts of the games particularly rather than the whole game.

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"I feel the pain and frustration that other people do. No one takes a loss harder than me. Sometimes I can hide it better or process it in a different way to some people but the losses are taken extremely hard.

"We're working hard to get better."

Hetherington has backed Smith throughout his tenure, which began with the experienced CEO declaring his appointment as the most important he had made since 2003 when his uncle Tony was handed the top job at Headingley.

Castleford are fresh from a big win over Hull. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)Castleford are fresh from a big win over Hull. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
Castleford are fresh from a big win over Hull. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

Smith is confident he retains Hetherington's full support.

"As far as I know," said Smith during a press conference on Friday. "I look forward to working with the new person and most importantly to tomorrow's game and getting stuck into that."

Leeds are smarting from a 40-10 drubbing by St Helens last Friday, a sixth defeat in nine games.

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By contrast, Castleford will arrive at Headingley in high spirits after defeating Hull FC to continue their recent resurgence.

Craig Lingard's side have taken seven points from six matches since losing to the Rhinos at Wheldon Road in March.

Smith appreciates the importance of the derby fixture and the value of the two points heading into a two-week break.

"They're always very significant for both organisations, particularly for us," he said.

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"We're really disappointed with how last week's second half went. We thought we attacked the game really well in the first half and there was a lot of confidence and positivity amongst the group at half-time.

"We started the second half poorly and aside from a little patch, we didn't really recover.

"We're really disappointed by that and want to take some action, show we can play better for longer and chase that improvement. We feel this is a really pivotal game for us."

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