WATCH: Why Tony Smith returned to Super League with Hull KR

WHEN it came to making their next head coach appointment, it was always clear Hull KR could not settle for second best.

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Hull KR appoint ex-Leeds Rhinos and England boss Tony Smith as new head coach

After all, when former Australia chief Tim Sheens departed on Wednesday, it meant they had sacked one of the greatest coaches the sport has ever known.

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If you are to do that you must have a pretty solid plan in place, especially when plenty of people reckoned the Robins’ current state – albeit far from brilliant – was not actually too worrying.

Tony Smith takes charge of Hull KR (Picture: Hull KR)

However, in announcing last night they have brought former Leeds Rhinos and England chief Tony Smith on board for the rest of the season, you could begin to understand the method if there was, indeed, any madness.

If guiding them to safety is key, and improving performances, then this is a fine appointment.

Admittedly, it was a surprise announcement – Smith has been out of the game for 18 months since leaving his last job at Warrington Wolves – but certainly a welcome one.

Acclaimed for being the innovator and inspirer who helped secure Leeds’s first league championship in 32 years, starting off that club’s glorious period of success in 2004, there are few more knowledgeable coaches around.

The Australian, 52, has proved his credentials time and again, whether taking Rhinos to two Grand Final victories and a World Club Challenge win, or stirring the sleeping giant at Warrington with a trio of Challenge Cups and two League Leaders’ Shields.

Importantly, he has that international experience as well, having coached the last Great Britain side in 2007 and been England chief for the following two years.

His highlight there was reaching the 2009 Four Nations final at Elland Road where, for a time, and inspired by a 20 year-old Sam Burgess, they looked capable of downing Australia until finally falling away at the death.

Who was the Kangaroos coach that night? Ironically, Tim Sheens. Smith’s job now is to inherit Sheens’s club side and try to eke out an upturn in performances after five defeats from their last six games saw them down in 11th just two points above London Broncos in the relegation spot.

When he left Warrington in 2017, after their own battle against relegation, he thought the sport was “dwindling” and needed more “freshness” before he could get excited again.

But Smith – who will be in charge for Sunday’s home game against champions Wigan Warriors – says he is now “refreshed” and ready to go once more.

“It’s a great opportunity for myself to start coaching again,” he said, having been a coaching mentor in the Premier League.

“I’ve had a good break and I’m very excited to be working with the talent available at Rovers.

“I’m keen to get on board with the players and understand where they’re at and see where I can help them.”

Smith, whose coaching career in England began with Huddersfield Giants in 2001, added: “I want to help the players to be as good as they can be both individually and as a team.

“I want to instil some confidence in areas where it’s needed and practice in those areas too.

“With the talent available, there’s a good, strong chance of climbing the ladder to a place which is far greater to where we are at this moment. I’m looking forward to that journey and development of players.”

Smith certainly has plenty of tools to work with; injured players are returning and many of KR’s 11 defeats have seen them in promising positions only to fall away at the critical moment.

Small improvements are required and Smith could be the man to make them.

“I’ve had a lot of experience over the years at all the clubs that I’ve been at, where they haven’t been in ideal situations when I’ve taken over,” he pointed out,

“They ended up in strong positions once I left and I look forward to doing exactly that in this period of time.

“There’s a lot of players that I admire within the team but it’s now up to me to get the best out of them. I want to get the boys in a position where they’re proud of what they’re producing and I think we can do that quickly.”

It is hard to imagine Smith will not extend his deal beyond this term if things go well.

The recent appointment of John Bastian – his head of youth during his Rhinos and Wolves days – at KR suggests he could be there for the long haul.

Understandably, KR fans were certainly impressed last night.

It has to be remembered, though, that there was a similar, if not greater, positive response when Sheens was appointed almost three years ago.

With his four Premierships in Australia, more than 600 first-grade games and a 2013 World Cup with the Kangaroos, he was a stunning capture.

However, his chances of success were hampered, not only by the initial relegation that was out of his hands, but some poor recruitment, too.

The club needs to get that right first to give any coach the chance of capitalising on the undoubted potential at KCOM Craven Park.