Cameron Smith looking to cement his position in Leeds Rhinos’ first team

THIS WILL be a “big year” for Leeds Rhinos’ Cameron Smith as he aims to nail down a specialist role and secure a new contract.

By Peter Smith
Saturday, 4th January 2020, 6:00 am
Cameron Smith in action against Wakefield Trinity in the Festive Challenge.
Cameron Smith in action against Wakefield Trinity in the Festive Challenge.

The 21-year-old made his Rhinos debut in 2016 and has 42 appearances under his belt, but is still battling to establish himself as a first-choice pick.

Smith highlighted his versatility last year when he played 20 times, half of those as a substitute.

One of his starts was at stand-off with the rest being in the second-row and he also filled in as replacement hooker, but finding a settled position is a new year’s resolution.

Cameron Smith.

Smith started in his favoured slot at loose-forward and was among the try scorers in Leeds’ opening pre-season game, a 30-4 win over Wakefield Trinity on Boxing Day.

That job is up for grabs following marquee star Trent Merrin’s return to Australia and Smith is eyeing an opportunity.

“This is the best pre-season I have had,” Smith said. “It is the fittest I’ve been.

“You get better year on year and now I feel like I am becoming a bit stronger and faster.

“I am really excited for this year, obviously with people leaving the squad it has given me a bit of an opportunity and I want to get my foot in the door and play every week.”

Smith, whose older brother Dan plays for their hometown club Castleford Tigers, was eligible for academy rugby until the end of the 2018 season, but reckons he is now getting to grips with the demands of full-time status.

“I have been full-time for a few years now and I know what to expect,” he stressed. “This is the most disciplined I’ve been and I am out of contract at the end of this season so I am playing for a contract as well.

“I am out to impress. I want to stay here, I just want to play so if that spot’s here I’ll be over the moon.”

The utility tag makes Smith a more than useful squad man, but means he has never had a sustained opportunity to play his best rugby.

The England Knights forward admitted: “I’ve never really had a settled position, I’ve played everywhere – half, back-row.

“Now I want to cement my spot in the middle and just build game-by-game. I want to play 13, carry the ball and just know my role in that spot, instead of being pushed out to the back-row or wherever.”

Rhinos’ first-team squad were flying to Spain today for a warm-weather training camp before their second warm-up match at home to Bradford Bulls in eight days’ time. New arrival Matt Prior is expected to feature in the Jamie Jones-Buchanan testimonial – which is also a benefit for Rob Burrow – and fellow signings Kruise Leeming and Alex Mellor could be available after missing Boxing Day due to injury. That will increase competition, but Smith is hoping to secure another chance after feeling “really good” against Trinity.

“It was nice to get the cobwebs off,” he said. “You can train as much as you want, but as soon as you come to the game and it’s contact on contact you do start to fatigue.”