Leeds Rhinos make major change to playing department as Gary Hetherington hands over to new rugby boss

Leeds Rhinos have announced a major change to the way the club’s performance department is run.

Chief executive Gary Hetherington is handing over over day-to-day responsibilities for the rugby operation to a new sporting director who will handle all decisions to do with player and staff retention and recruitment.

The overhaul comes with Rhinos seventh in Betfred Super League and pressure mounting on coach Rohan Smith following a series of disappointing performances and results. Rhinos say they expect to receive internal and external applications for the newly-created position.

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The recruitment process will begin immediately and is expected to be concluded in early June. A statement from the club this afternoon (Wednesday) said the sporting director will “provide strategic direction, leadership and oversight of the rugby department” as a member of Rhinos’ board.

Gary Hetherington leads Rhinos out at Wemnley in 2020. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.Gary Hetherington leads Rhinos out at Wemnley in 2020. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.
Gary Hetherington leads Rhinos out at Wemnley in 2020. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.
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It added: “The new wide-ranging role will oversee all age grades at the club along with support for the Leeds Rhinos Foundation’s RL development plan. The successful applicant will have a proven experience in a senior managerial position with a strong understanding of corporate finance and performance management principles.

“The sporting director will oversee the rugby league operation, providing leadership for the coaching and playing staff in line with the club’s strategy and vision, management of salary cap compliance, player and staff recruitment and retention and the youth development and medical departments.”

Hetherington is remaining as chief executive, but will "focus more on the business and income stream challenges facing the club”. Explaining the restructuring, he said: “This decision will boost the Rhinos’ fortunes now and in the future. It’s a big job and we are looking for someone with extensive experience in sport to lead our plan to build a culture of excellence, innovation and learning to support performance and development and someone who can make a difference.

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“This will be done as part of our strategic plan for the development of men’s and women’s rugby league at the highest level achievable within our financial means in accordance with our mission and values. Clearly winning on the field is a key focus for this new role, but - perhaps more importantly - doing so while developing an environment for sustainable long-term success that promotes the best local talent with the recruitment of world class players.”

Hetherington has overseen the rugby department since he and Paul Caddick took over the club at the end of the first Super League season in 1996. He appointed Smith as coach two years ago and that decision paid off as Leeds went from a relegation battle to fifth place in the table and a Grand Final appearance.

However, Rhinos slumped to eighth last season and are in danger of missing out on the play-offs again after losing half of their 12 league games so far. That has heaped pressure on Smith with many fans calling for a change of coach.

Hetherington has backed the Australian, but it remains to be seen whether the new appointee will be as supportive. There is as yet no indication as to who will take the role, but former captain Kevin Sinfield, who had a previous spell as director of rugby, will inevitably be linked with a return to the club, along with former Leeds coach Tony Smith, who is uncle of Rohan Smith.

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