New Leeds Rhinos sporting director Ian Blease addresses Rohan Smith position and Paul Rowley speculation

NEW Leeds Rhinos sporting director Ian Blease has stressed that he will not rush into any decisions amid ongoing scrutiny over Rohan Smith's position as head coach.

Blease will head up the club's rugby operation with autonomy over player and staff retention and recruitment.

The former Salford Red Devils supremo plans to conduct a "root and branch review" of the performance department but insisted there would not be a special focus on the head coach.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"It's not particularly just that role," said Blease, who had dealings with former Bradford Bulls boss Smith during his time as an agent.

"It's coming in and having a look at the whole rugby set-up. That's what I'm good at. I won't pick out any individuals to home in on.

"I'll watch from afar to start with and then start getting into it.

"He's a good guy. I don't know intimately what he's been working on behind the scenes but I'll spend time in the coaches room with him to see how he works.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Gary (Hetherington, chief executive) tells me good things about him and it's too early for me to judge him at the moment."

NEW ERA: Ian Blease (right) Leeds Rhinos' new sporting director sits with Gary Hetherington during Monday's press conference at Headingley Stadium Picture: James Hardisty.NEW ERA: Ian Blease (right) Leeds Rhinos' new sporting director sits with Gary Hetherington during Monday's press conference at Headingley Stadium Picture: James Hardisty.
NEW ERA: Ian Blease (right) Leeds Rhinos' new sporting director sits with Gary Hetherington during Monday's press conference at Headingley Stadium Picture: James Hardisty.

Leeds missed out on the play-offs last year and are outside the top six at the halfway mark of this season despite signing the likes of Brodie Croft and Andy Ackers, just two of the players Blease sold for significant fees during his seven-and-a-half-year tenure at Salford.

By contrast, the Red Devils have continued to punch above their weight with an ever-changing squad assembled on a modest budget.

Paul Rowley has been central to that since his appointment in late 2021, leading to talk that he may follow Blease to Headingley.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Blease, however, distanced himself from a potential move for his former head coach.

Rohan Smith's position has been the subject of scrutiny in recent months. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)Rohan Smith's position has been the subject of scrutiny in recent months. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
Rohan Smith's position has been the subject of scrutiny in recent months. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

"That's for you guys to put it on paper and speculate," said Blease, who will officially take the reins next Monday.

"It's my first press conference and it would be unfair to comment. I don't want to put any pressure on people or assume something might happen because it might not.

"I'll put a strategy in place and try to carry it through."

On Blease's watch, the unfancied Red Devils reached the Grand Final for the first time in 2019 and were narrowly beaten by Leeds at Wembley the following year.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Ian Blease has taken over Leeds' rugby department. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)Ian Blease has taken over Leeds' rugby department. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
Ian Blease has taken over Leeds' rugby department. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

That Challenge Cup success is the Rhinos' only trophy since 2017 when they won the Super League title for the eighth time.

Blease is hoping he is the man to restore the club's fortunes.

"The past history says Leeds have won a lot of trophies but they haven't done that recently," he said.

"Sport doesn't give it to you; you've got to work damn hard for it. The players and staff will know that.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Sometimes it can fall away. There are cycles in sport of teams succeeding, dropping down and coming back. You see it in football and in rugby.

"I see this as a new journey and a new era where I can put my stamp on it."

Paul Rowley, pictured, worked with Ian Blease at Salford. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)Paul Rowley, pictured, worked with Ian Blease at Salford. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)
Paul Rowley, pictured, worked with Ian Blease at Salford. (Photo: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com)

Leeds were beaten Grand Finalists in their first season under Smith in 2022 but are without a top-four finish in six years.

The foundations are in place to take the Rhinos back to the Super League summit, according to Blease.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Hull KR are having a good go at it and Warrington are coming good again," he added.

"It doesn't take a lot. From what I could see from the outside and a little bit within now, it's not going to take huge strides but we've got to make certain improvements in certain key areas.

"I think a lot of the components are already here. The squad just needs a few tweaks."

Leeds' barren period has coincided with the redevelopment of Headingley, with the iconic North and South Stands demolished in 2017.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Blease is determined to make the Rhinos' home a daunting place to visit again.

"I want to make this place a bit of a fortress," he said.

"We enjoyed coming here and a lot of teams do now when they never used to before.

"I can't turn that around on my own. That's got to come from the fans, the staff and the players.

"It's a great place to play at but it's probably too nice to play here now."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The move ends Blease's long association with Salford, first as a player and then in the role of director of rugby.

While he leaves the Red Devils with a heavy heart, Blease views his new job at Leeds as the next step in his career.

"It's the right time for both parties and when that happens in sport, I think you can be satisfied with how things have worked out," he said.

"I've worked hard for this. For many years, I've been wondering whether another opportunity would come my way. There have been discussions with clubs over the years but nothing significant like this.

"I'm made up for myself and the family but more than that, it's the drive to really make it big here. That's what I'm about."

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.