Leeds Rhinos: Home truths were key to Smith's emergence
TEENAGE PROSPECT Cameron Smith has revealed how some harsh words spurred his emergence as one of Leeds Rhinos' brightest new talents.
Smith, 19, was the game’s hottest young property during his junior and youth days and has captained England at academy level.
But before this season he had found the gap to first-team level difficult to bridge.
Smith made two substitute appearances for Rhinos in 2016 and one last year, as well as spending time on loan at Bradford Bulls where he played 11 times.
He gained valuable experience playing against men, but admitted he did not reach the standard he is capable of in the Championship and that led to some home truths from Rhinos coach Brian McDermott ahead of the 2018 campaign.
“He gave me a pretty tough time in pre-season because of last year,” Smith recalled.
“I had a spell at Bradford and I wasn’t performing to the best I can be.
“A lot of people wrote me off.
“We had a couple of conversations about pre-season and what he [McDermott] wanted from me.
“In the pre-season games I tried to show what I can do, then a couple of injuries came and he gave me a chance.”
Smith was an unused substitute when Rhinos visited Widnes Vikings in February
He was called up for Rhinos’ Betfred Super League fixture at St Helens three weeks later, did a solid job and has now played in seven successive games.
“I was a bit angry and I thought this game is going to determine what happens and whether my future is at Leeds,” he said of the win at Saints.
“I would like to think that impressed him.”
Smith added: “Obviously I didn’t expect to play as much as I am doing at the minute.
“I got my chance to play against Saints and I grabbed it with both hands and he [McDermott] has kept me in the squad for the last seven games.
“I could not have asked for it to go much better.
“I am getting plenty of game time, I have got a few games under my belt and I have just got to keep going and trying to perform.”
A former pupil of Castleford Academy high school – one of rugby league’s greatest production lines – Smith was a player most Super League clubs were keen to sign.
His older brother Dan Smith, now at Huddersfield Giants, came through Rhinos’ academy system, though he did not play a first-team game and Cameron said his influence was crucial.
“He started at Leeds and he could not speak highly enough of them,” Smith said.
“They were a top team when I was 15 or 16 and choosing where I wanted to play and they were the team I wanted to play for.”
This is Smith’s final year as an academy-qualified player.
He said he is contracted for 2019 and the deal includes an option in Rhinos’ favour after that.
“This is the year when I want to cement my spot, so next year when the time comes I am playing regularly, ” Smith confirmed.
“I don’t want to be going elsewhere, I want to stay and play at Leeds.”
Smith’s 10th senior appearance for the club, away to Hull last week, came in Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s 400th.
“I look at him and what he is doing on and off the field and I try and take what I can from that,” Smith said
“To reach 400 games is unbelievable, I could never imagine doing that.
“It is surreal, because these are the players I watched when I was growing up, thinking I want to do that one day – and now I have got the chance.”
As a youngster, outside the elite 25-man squad, Smith may have to step down when Rhinos’ squad is fully-fit, but he insisted: “I have just got to compete for my position.
“I have been coming on at back-row and playing loose-forward, we’ve had a couple of injuries and I’ve played a few games.
“My main aim is to cement my spot so when Brian names his 17 I am in it, whether we have injuries or not.”
Rhinos have won only two of their last six games and suffered successive one-point defeats. Smith said making a better start is part of the plan at Hull KR tomorrow.
“We need to get a grip with starting slowly,” he stressed.
“Losing by one point means we are competing
“We’ve had a couple of days off, everybody will be fresh and we will be looking for the two points this week.”