Marcus Smith, England rugby union’s new star, heading to Leeds Rhinos

England rugby union star Marcus Smith wants to train with Leeds Rhinos – to help “toughen up” his game.

Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 5:00 pm
Marcus Smith of England, who wants to train at Leeds Rhinos to 'toughen him up', is tackled by Izack Rodda of Australia (Picture: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

One of the brightest young talents in the 15-a-side code, the Harlequins fly-half is set to face world champions South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday.

Having helped defeat Australia last week to retain the Cook Cup, he will be looking to further enhance his growing reputation against the Springboks in England’s final autumn international.

Smith’s spectacular rise to prominence saw him represent the British and Irish Lions in the summer having already helped Quins’ claim the Premiership title.

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However, the 22-year-old is also a fan of rugby league and has a keen interest in the sport.

For 15 months, Smith’s attack coach at Quins was Sean Long, the former Great Britain No7 who left last autumn to return to league as one of Richard Agar’s Rhinos assistants.

The pair have kept in close contact since, Long being a real admirer of the player’s quality, skill set and temperament.

And that has led to Smith seeking to improve his game further by visiting the West Yorkshire club’s training base in Kirkstall.

Sean Long, assistant coach at Leeds Rhinos (Picture: Steve Riding)

“Marcus texted me recently and asked if he could come up to Leeds Rhinos,” Long told The Yorkshire Post.

“He asked if he could come and train with us and I said of course he can. I squared it off with Rich.

“Marcus wants to just come and see what it’s like with us and see what it’s like training in rugby league.

“It’s not that he wants to change codes or anything; he just wants to look at the challenges of rugby league compared to rugby union as he is always wanting to improve.

Leeds Rhinos coach Sean Long (Picture: Steve Riding)

“Marcus told me he wants to come up and toughen up a bit.

“That’s all about his own personal development.

“He is an outstanding player but what I like about him is he’s not finished yet; he’s wanting to learn and learn and learn.”

Long won every honour in the game while playing for St Helens, including Super League, the Challenge Cup, World Club Challenge, Man of Steel and the Lance Todd Trophy.

One of the sport’s great playmakers, the 45-year-old is now imparting his knowledge on others and has worked across both codes.

Long is looking forward to welcoming Smith to Headingley in the near future.

“Marcus said when they get a break he will come up,” he said.

“I’m not sure if he’ll get one after these autumn internationals or not but I’ve just said whenever you get a week or two off come up and see us.

“I’ve spoken to Rich and he’s said he can come up any time he wants. Marcus said he just wants to have a look and see how we go about things.”

Earlier this week, Smith was nominated as a World Rugby nominee for the 2021 World Breakthrough Player of the Year award with Wales’ Louis Rees-Zammit, New Zealand wing Will Jordan and Australia back-three star Andrew Kellaway.

Long has not been surprised by his progress and he will be able to discuss that with Eddie Jones as the England coach is also set to visit the eight-time Super League champions.

Australian Jones is an avid fan of rugby league and spent a couple of days at Hull FC in May having also previously called in at the likes of Warrington Wolves and Wigan Warriors.

Long added: “Rich Agar went down to (England RU training base) Pennyhill Park a couple of weeks ago and spent five days down there seeing what it was about, seeing if he could pick up any tips.

“It doesn’t matter that it’s a different game. Eddie’s coming up to Rhinos in early December when this autumn series is finished.

“Eddie, Jon Clarke and Martin Gleeson are all coming for a couple of days to see what we’re about and see if they have any important tips for us we’ll take it on board.

“It’s all about sharing. Even though we’re a different code, we don’t hide anything.

“It was like that at Harlequins and someone else who is really good at that is Justin Holbrook.

“When I was at Saints with him, any other coaches who wanted to come and have a look could come in and see what we’re about.

“That could be football or rugby union – we had someone from Ulster – and if they can pick up just one thing it’s good.

“When you speak to all the union boys, too, they all watch rugby league and love it.”