Cameron Smith: Leeds Rhinos building nicely for new Super League campaign forward says ahead of Featherstone Rovers pre-season clash
Leeds Rhinos are in a far better state now than at the same stage in pre-season last year, forward Cameron Smith says.
Rhinos begin their competitive campaign at home to Warrington Wolves four weeks today, in the first Betfred Super League game to be broadcast live on Channel 4.
So far, two months into their preparations, Rhinos have a near clean bill of health. That is a sharp contrast to 2021 when they lost a host of key players to long-term injury during pre-season and their run of bad luck continued as the campaign went on.
The season which starts for Leeds on February 12 will be 23-year-old Smith’s seventh in the first-team squad and the ball-handling back-rower reckons the competition has got tougher every time.
But, ahead of tomorrow’s warm-up match at Championship promotion hopefuls Featherstone Rovers, Smith insisted key additions on and off the field have taken Rhinos to a new level and there is excitement in the squad about what this season could bring.
“Every year I’ve played, I feel like the competition has got harder, no matter who comes in signing-wise,” Smith, who made his debut as a 17-year-old in 2016, said.
“I just think everyone gets bigger, stronger, faster – that has happened every year. I am expecting a tough year, but on the flip side of that, we are also in a better position than we were last year, so hopefully we are in for a good season.”
Smith feels what happened to them over the past 12 months has made Rhinos stronger across the board this year.
“All the younger boys have had another year, because we did it tough in some areas last season,” he added.
“Young boys had to play pivotal parts in our team and I think we will be better for that, plus we have made four great signings.
“I am excited to see every single one of them play. I got a taste of it with Austo [Blake Austin], Seze [Aidan Sezer] and James Bentley on Boxing Day and I can’t wait to see big Dave Fusitu’a put the shirt on. I think we have got a great squad leading into round one. I am really excited.”
A top-four finish is the minimum target for Rhinos after they placed fifth in 2020 and 2021. They also reached the play-off semi-finals last term before being eliminated by eventual champions St Helens.
Smith pointed out: “We came one step short and we didn’t have a consistent side throughout the year, never mind any halves.
“Luke [Gale] got injured so we played a lot of the season without him, which hurt us because we lacked some kicking game.
“Now we’ve brought in two halves who can both kick the ball. I think that will be a big turning point for us in regards to where we finish our sets and being able to play tough games.
“We’ll be able to put teams in corners and play the long game, instead of trying to score from anywhere and almost scrape winning games due to not having field position because there’s no one who can put us in a corner and kick well.”
Rhinos began training in November, but the intensity has increased since the new year, with the starting line now in sight.
“[Pre-season] has been good,” Smith stated.
“It was pretty relaxed up until Christmas and I feel like it has stepped up these last couple of weeks now we are heading into round one.
“Rich [Hunwicks, Rhinos’ new head of performance] has come in and created an extremely professional environment.
“The training loads have been managed for specific players and we’ve had no soft tissue injuries, even though the training has been fairly intense at times, which I feel will be a big bonus for us.
“We struggled to get our strongest 17 on the field every week last year so him coming in and managing everyone how they are supposed to be will be huge for us.”
Coach Richard Agar is planning to use a big squad for Sunday’s pre-season game away to Rhinos’ dual-registration partner club and - according to Smith - places in the round one team remain up for grabs.
“He is definitely going to have some headaches in certain positions,” Smith admitted.
“But I can think of worse scenarios for a head coach.
“If he does have to make that tough decision I am sure whoever steps in and wears the shirt will do the job regardless.”
Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. You'll enjoy unlimited access to the latest on Leeds United, Leeds Rhinos, Castleford Tigers and Wakefield Trinity, as well as other West Yorkshire rugby league clubs. With our sports digital subscription, you'll also see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times and get exclusive content. Click here to subscribe.