Leeds Rhinos nostalgia: Smith and Poching are popular ‘enemies’

Tony Smith.
Tony Smith.
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THE COACHING team who will aim to mastermind Leeds Rhinos’ downfall this week are both former Headingley favourites.

Warrington Wolves boss Tony Smith spent four seasons in charge at Leeds while his right-hand man Willie Poching served the club with distinction for almost a decade as a player and then assistant-coach.

Smith – whose side are at home to Rhinos on Friday night – will go down in club history as one of Rhinos’ greatest team bosses.

The Aussie played as a half-back for Illawarra and St George – before their merger – in his native Australia and also had a brief stint at Workington in the inaugural 1996 Super League season.

Younger brother of famed ex-Hull and Bradford coach Brian Smith, he was on the backroom staff at Adelaide Rams and Parramatta Eels before joining Huddersfield Giants in 2001.

He could not save them from relegation in his first season, but they bounced back the following year and Smith’s time in charge began the rise which led to them winning the league leaders’ shield last season.

Smith left Huddersfield at the end of 2003 to replace Daryl Powell as Leeds coach and made an immediate impact.

Rhinos lost just two league matches en-route to topping the table in his debut season and went on to beat Bradford Bulls at Old Trafford to win their first Grand Final.

They won the World Club Challenge and were runners-up in the Challenge Cup, league and Grand Final in 2005 – when Smith was named coach of the year – but had a disappointing 2006.

Mid-way through 2007 Smith announced he would be leaving at the end of the year to become coach of the national team.

Rhinos finished second in the table and then demolished St Helens in the Grand Final as Smith became the first Leeds coach to win two championships.

Smith moved to Warrington in March 2009 and is the longest-serving coach in Super League. He has led them to three Challenge Cup wins – two of those against Leeds – and two Grand Final appearances, losing to Rhinos and Wigan Warriors.

Poching joined Rhinos from Wakefield ahead of the 2002 campaign and went on to make 149 appearances, including the 2004 Grand Final and the following season’s World Club Challenge win, when he was among the try scorers against Canterbury Bulldogs at Elland Road.

Popular with fans for his thrilling, whole-hearted playing style, he eventually hung up his boots at the end of 2006 and joined the backroom staff as senior academy team boss and assistant-coach.

He quit Leeds at the end of 2010 and linked up the following season with Smith at Warrington – swapping places with James Lowes, who moved from the Wolves to become an assistant-coach at Rhinos and now coaches Leeds Carnegie RUFC.

Rob Burrow, pictured during his 500th career appearance with a specially numbered jersey in the game at St Helens in February this year. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

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