TONY SMITH’S rebuild job at Hull KR is gathering pace with the addition of a new assistant coach and another player signing.
It was abundantly clear, after the Robins only escaped relegation by virtue of a superior points difference to London Broncos, that changes needed to be made for 2020.
Smith, who took over as head coach in June, is now judiciously working through the alterations he feels are required to ensure the East Yorkshire club do not suffer such calamities again.
It is perhaps no surprise that he has brought Willie Poching back to KR given the knowledgeable Kiwi has been such a trusted assistant coach for him before.
Smith not only worked with Poching at Warrington Wolves and, previously, at Leeds Rhinos but also coached him as a player at Headingley when Leeds lifted their first Super League title in 2004.
Poching – who had been working at Huddersfield Giants this year and last worked at the Robins in 2016 – comes in after it was confirmed yesterday that James Webster had left the club.
Webster, 40, has spent the last four years at Rovers in various coaching capacities including a spell as head coach following Chris Chester’s exit.
The Australian was then made Tim Sheens’s assistant and carried on that role when Smith arrived earlier this year.
However, with Featherstone head coach Ryan Carr reported to be imminently heading back to Australia, Webster – who has also worked as Wakefield Trinity head coach and France assistant – is set to take control at Post Office Road for 2020.
Poching, meanwhile, will reunite with fellow assistant Dave Hodgson at Craven Park, the pair last working together when Rovers were relegated under interim coach Webster in 2016.
However, Smith has made a change to their job descriptions.
“The last time that Willie was here he was given a role of ‘defence coach’,” he said.
“Willie or Hodge will not have any sort of tag this year; the three of us will coach all relevant aspects of the game.
“If the team performs well in attack and defence, the credit is shared.
“If we do not succeed in any aspect, the buck stops with me.”
Smith added: “Willie knows the fabric of the place and loved his time here.
“He is very passionate about it and he is aware of the style of coach that I am and the style of play we desire here.
“He is very capable and a very competent coach that can deliver the right kind of training to help our players improve.”
On Webster’s departure, he said: “I had and still have a great relationship with James, we remain close and always will be.
“We’re in regular contact and I’m very grateful for the short time that I have spent with him.
“He has been fantastic for me, and terrific in terms of his knowledge and coaching ability.
“He’s been incredibly supportive, loyal and honest towards me and I know he’s very passionate about Hull KR.
“But I also understand that he wants to further his career as a head coach and feels that other opportunities have come up for him in that respect. It was with some regret and reluctance that James has left but at the same time it was the right thing for the progress of his career.”
Meanwhile, the head coach is looking forward to working with Greg Minikin, the 24-year-old who helped Castleford to the 2017 League Leaders’ Shield and Grand Final after joining from part-timers York City Knights.
“Greg is a quality player; he is young, experienced, but still hungry to improve,” he said, joining fellow new recruits such as NRL star Shaun Kenny-Dowall and Bradford Bulls winger Ethan Ryan.
“He’s ambitious at the same time and I’m delighted to have him on board.
“He will add some of that enthusiasm and youthfulness but also experience of Super League.
“He’s played in big matches and played within a team that has been competing at the top end for the last few years.
“We need some of that knowledge and know-how from him to pass on to his fellow players,” he added.
All Black Sonny Bill Williams has expressed an interest in joining Super League newcomers Toronto Wolfpack, head coach Brian McDermott has revealed.
The Canadian outfit are on the lookout for big-name signings following their promotion from the Championship and intend to follow up on their initial approach once his Rugby World Cup commitments are over. “Sonny Bill Williams has shown interest in us and that’s what it is at the moment,” McDermott said