Comment: Rohan Smith's Leeds Rhinos playing a whole new ball game

This weekend’s visitors Salford Red Devils have had a major bearing on Leeds Rhinos season.

It was a defeat at AJ Bell Stadium in March which ended Richard Agar’s spell as Rhinos coach.

Three days after Leeds’ 26-12 loss, an “upset and deflated” Agar told the media he had resigned for “the betterment of the club”.

He admitted: “I think, perhaps, I have taken the team as far as I can and they may well need a fresh voice at this moment in time.”

Rohan Smith takes his hat off to Rhinos' fans after the comeback win at Catalans. Picture by Manuel Blondeau/

That fresh voice turned out to be Rohan Smith, best known then as son of ex-Wakefield Trinity boss Brian Smith and nephew of Tony Smith who masterminded Leeds’ 2004 and 2007 Grand Final triumphs.

Speaking after last week’s incredible win at Catalans Dragons, Smith conceded a lot of Rhinos fans “wouldn’t have had a clue” who he was at the time he was appointed, but the Aussie is certainly starting to make a name for himself.

Smith took charge for the first time at the start of May when Rhinos returned to Salford and suffered an even heavier defeat, 23-8.

Salford - who also hammered the final nail into Agar’s predecessor Dave Furner’s Rhinos coaching coffin - have won only seven of the sides’ 52 Super League meetings and if they can make it eight on Sunday afternoon, it will put a serious dent in Leeds’ top six hopes.

Rohan Smith, left, with team manager Jason Davidson, arrives at Salford for his first game as Leeds coach. Picture by John Clifton/

Going into Betfred Super League round 22 (out of 27), the Red Devils hold the final play-off spot, just one point ahead of Rhinos.

Under Paul Rowley, Salford have been the surprise package in 2022 and their 44-12 thrashing of St Helens last week was arguably the most impressive result of the campaign so far.

That put some perspective on Leeds’ losses to them, but even so, Sunday is an opportunity for Rhinos to show how far they have come under Smith.

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Players like Jarrod O'Connor have flourished under Rohan Smith. Picture by Manuel Blondeau/

Leeds look a much different team now to the one on duty in Smith’s first match.

Six wins from 10 games might not be title-winning form, but it’s a big improvement on three from 12 which was the situation before he took over.

There have been several spectacular results in there, including big away wins at Warrington Wolves and Hull and the home defeat of Wigan Warriors, as well as some setbacks.

Comebacks are a double-edged sword; Rhinos went 30-6 behind before staging a stunning rally to win 36-32 in extra-time at Catalans Dragons last week, which was the greatest fightback in the club’s history.

In the first 50 or so minutes, Catalans highlighted the work there is still to be done. Had that game been played in the opening few months of the campaign, Rhinos might have scored a couple of consolation tries, but would have lost convincingly.

The 2022 Leeds Rhinos have never been a bad team, but in the early part of the year they were a group of talented individuals who were playing poorly.

Smith thinks outside the box sometimes. He has encouraged his players to express themselves, chance their arm and take risks. More often than not, it has worked.

They are playing with smiles on faces and that tends to bring the best out of people. They also look much more together as a team than at the start of the year.

Players are no longer trying to solve problems themselves and react better when things go wrong.

Game plans - for example the way Leeds dealt with Wigan dangermen Jai Field and Bevan French - are being stuck to and proving effective.

They are becoming a good side to watch, which is hugely important for Leeds and some players - Cameron Smith and Jarrod O’Connor are two examples - have really flourished.

Whether or not they qualify for the play-offs, Rhinos have salvaged something positive from what was becoming a disastrous campaign.

It won’t be fair to judge Smith until he has had a full pre-season under his belt and is working with players he wants at the club, rather than a team inherited from a previous regime.

But so far, the number of points being scored is way up, defensively Rhinos look more solid and if they win on Sunday, Leeds will have beaten five of the top seven under Smith.

That is clear evidence of a team moving in the right direction, which is good for them and the competition as a whole.