Leeds Rhinos new coach Rohan Smith keen for familiarity to bring contentment

AS NEW Leeds Rhinos head coach Rohan Smith took in his new surroundings at Headingley, he chose his words carefully.

NEW ERA: Rohan Smith at Leeds Rhinos's Headingley stadium yesterday. Picture by Phil Daly/Leeds Rhinos/SWpix.com
NEW ERA: Rohan Smith at Leeds Rhinos's Headingley stadium yesterday. Picture by Phil Daly/Leeds Rhinos/SWpix.com

Smith arrived in the city yesterday and was put in front of a laptop to face the media via Zoom before he had even been given a tour of the stadium.

It was little surprise, then, that the Australian played with a straight bat in the manner of a man settling down for a long innings on the other side of the famous old ground.

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There were no grand proclamations about a late play-off charge, nor would he be drawn on recruitment and retention matters.

Morgan Gannon scores the Rhinos second try for Leeds Rhinos against Hull KR. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Smith’s first objective is simply to get to know the players and staff while maintaining the feel-good factor generated under interim boss Jamie Jones-Buchanan.

“Building relationships is key for performance,” he said as he prepares to welcome the squad back from a break tomorrow.

“Everyone being connected is something I am big on. I eagerly await catching up with the players for a chat, those that want to sit down and have a detailed chat. That’s the best way to get to know guys and I think that will help me to be able to help them.

“I am keen to build on what has happened in the last couple of weeks. The performances have been strong; a lot of effort and energy has gone into them and they have been playing like a team.

Leeds Rhinos' Jamie Jones-Buchanan. Picture by Phil Daly/Leeds Rhinos/SWpix.com

“I am keen to spend some time with the coaches to talk through the things they have been working on and the direction they’ve been trying to push the group. Then, [I’ll be] working with that and adding to that.

“I am certainly not looking to shift too far away from things as of Thursday. It will be a gradual process on the back of some good work in recent weeks.”

The 40-year-old had a watching brief in the first two weeks of his tenure, during which time the Rhinos claimed wins over Toulouse Olympique and Hull KR. The players made a positive impression on their new coach but Smith insisted it was “way too early” to set targets for the rest of 2022 with Leeds five points adrift of the top six after 11 rounds.

“I think there’s been real positive energy and application as a team,” he said of recent performances.

“They look like they are out there enjoying the battle together and it was great to see everyone get rewarded for their hard work over the last little period.

“Having our best crack of winning every week is the intention. I want us to play rugby that makes people proud to come and watch.”

Although he is still shaking off jetlag, Smith must quickly get his head around the contract situation at Headingley while having a say on recruitment.

Blake Austin, Jack Broadbent and Rhyse Martin are among the Leeds players entering the final few months of their current deals – but Smith is relaxed about the situation.

“Those conversions are something we’re going to have in the next few days,” he said.

“To check in with the status of players that are looking to be re-signed or who we want to re-sign. I’m not across that stuff just yet.

“Addressing people’s futures is a priority but whether it needs to be done today or next week... The players who need to have a conversation with me about where they sit in the future, I won’t be able to have a definitive answer for them today.

“But I can have a conversation with them and see where they want to go with their careers.

“The ball can then start rolling when needed but they are club decisions and we’ll be having those conversions in the coming days and weeks.”

On the potential for mid-season signings, Smith added: “If there’s an opportunity to strengthen your roster, you’re always going to explore it - whether it’s possible with salary cap and the needs of the group.

“But there’s an understanding that there’s a good bunch of young kids here and you don’t want to have too many people in their way.”

When Smith accepted the role, the Rhinos were anxiously looking over their shoulder at basement side Toulouse.

But thanks to a series of committed performances in the image of Jones-Buchanan, the task in front of Smith does not look quite so daunting.

“It shows a lot about him as a character and an emerging coach as well,” said Smith, who confirmed the existing backroom team would remain in place.

“It’s early days for his coaching career but what a test and opportunity that he’s had.

“From afar, it’s looked like a strong job; a tough gig for a youthful coach.

“But he has such great energy and passion for the club and lots of great ideas and values on life in general.

“You can see that the team have been playing well together through some adversity and got a couple of strong results on the back of six weeks of work.”