Leeds Rhinos boss says 'it's not all doom and gloom', hails fans ahead of Castleford Tigers finale
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Last year’s Grand Finalists and fifth-placed finishers can’t rise above eighth in Betfred Super League and Smith accepted: “We are having a tough time with some performances on the field.”
But the coach stressed there have been positives. He insisted: “We have had a lot of development of younger players, middle of the road players and some of our more senior players have really developed this season.
“We are excited about the group we have and with the addition of the ones we’ve already got - and a few more - we are excited about what the future holds.”
Smith stressed: “In any organisation, you have some tough times. Even some of the teams at the top end of the table this season, in the NRL and Super League, have had some really bruising defeats.
“We regret some of the closer, hard-fought defeats we had earlier in the year, where we probably should have won. [Without them] we maybe wouldn’t be in this position.
“I wouldn’t say it’s all doom and gloom. It is a tough couple of weeks, no doubt, but we are looking forward to Friday and what’s ahead beyond that.”
Fans have made their anger clear on social media since last week’s result, but Smith praised them for the backing they gave the team in France - and all year - and doesn’t expect that to change.
“I think if you’re a fan, you’re a fan,” he stated. “That doesn’t change based on the performance, you stick with your team.
“I am an Arsenal fan and we have had some great times and some tough times, but I remember living in Australia, getting up at 1am or 3am or 4am - whatever you have to do to follow your team, regardless of what happened last week.
“That has always been my thing. I share their disappointment, there was a great crowd last week and they were making a lot of noise throughout the game, which was great.
“I respect everyone for making that journey to support us. I know it is tough for some people to take, but you keep following your team.
“We will be out there to do our best on Friday and then look for a big pre-season to get back on track next year.”
The coach reckons the same applies to his squad. He said: “All of the players and staff sat around one table last weekend, post-game, without being asked to do so.
“It was a choice and people spent time with each other. Sometimes after a big win or a big loss people fracture off into their own little existence, so that was commendable to see.
“We have had four or five season-ending injuries to experienced players, plus four players that aren’t with us any more.
“If you take eight or nine players out of someone’s starting 17, that’s a big void. The group [that’s playing] at the moment are very much together and they are learning some hard lessons together. We all are.
“I have a lot of faith and belief in all of these guys as individuals. Next year will be a new team; this Friday is about getting out there and connecting with each other and playing as hard as we can together against local rivals.”
Rhinos’ chartered flight back from France last Sunday was delayed by five hours and Smith reckons that could prove a blessing in disguise.
“We had a good chat after the game and spent a bunch of time together, which was a really good thing,” he noted.
“We planned to spend some time together in Perpignan on Sunday and we ended up having a five-hour delay at the end of that on the way home.
“The players spent a lot of time together and we debriefed it a little bit, but we also showed that connection and the fact we are all in it together by enjoying each other’s company, even though it was a very tough and discomforting time.”
He added: “Everyone who has been in sport for a long time understands on a bad day the score can really go against you.
“We have had a couple of those, but we are understaffed in some capacities with a lot of players playing a lot of game time and being asked to do a lot more than they are probably ready for.
“But that’s providing much needed on the job experience and learning. Over-trying was a bit of an issue the other day and trying to fix it individually, rather than staying collective and connected to the team.
“I think it was a great reminder that we need to do it together and stay together. The attitude among the playing staff towards each other was strong, which is pleasing. They were critical of each other, but did it in a manner that showed they were teammates.”