Peter Smith’s Inside RL: JJB as left Rhinos in better shape for new coach Smith

NEW COACH Rohan Smith hasn’t exactly come into a healthy situation at Leeds Rhinos, but things are looking brighter than when he was appointed two weeks ago.

By Peter Smith
Tuesday, 3rd May 2022, 4:55 pm

Clubs don’t usually change their coach when everything is going well, unless he - or she - is moving on to a bigger challenge, for example with a national team or a Super League boss going to the NRL.

Rhinos are no exception, previous manager Richard Agar having resigned after a fifth defeat in six competitive matches.

Leeds have now played the same number of games this year with Jamie Jones-Buchanan as interim-coach and his record was better, with two wins, a draw and three defeats.

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Interim Leeds Rhinos head coach Jamie Jones-Buchanan has rejoined the backroom team. Picture: Phil Daly/Leeds Rhinos/

That’s not coach-of-the-year material, but Jones-Buchanan did a good job and has handed over the reins with the team in a better state than when he started, which is what any team boss - however long they are in charge - hopes for.

After heavy defeats in his first two matches, Jones-Buchanan saw Rhinos draw with Huddersfield - in a game they were 30 seconds away from winning - and lose by just two points at Castleford, then beat Toulouse and Hull KR.

It is not a like-for-like comparison, but Rhinos conceded 40 points in Jones-Buchanan’s first game as coach and none in his last.

Scoring points remains a problem, but the interim-coach was unable to field a full-strength side at any stage and had a 17-year-old rookie at half-back in three of his six matches.

Just-arrived Leeds Rhinos head coach Rohan Smith. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Attitude was the difference between the team beaten by Castleford and the - on paper weaker - one that defeated Hull KR.

Jones-Buchanan has managed to restore some pride in the shirt and, as several players have said, the team now look as though they want to play together and are enjoying doing so.

What nobody has specified is how that was lost in the first place, when so much emphasis had been placed over the previous three seasons on improving the culture in the changing room.

That’s something Smith - along with chief executive Gary Hetherington - will need to look at, to prevent it happening again. But, to a certain extent, the improvement has come through evolution; younger players tend to add enthusiasm and, by necessity, Jones-Buchanan gave plenty of rookies a chance.

Leeds Rhinos chief Gary Hetherington. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images.

Rather than the other way around, the kids have been setting an example for the more experienced players and that has worked.

Ideally, Max Simpson and Jack Sinfield would have had to wait longer for their first-team debut, but both have proved - while there remains much learning to be done - they are capable of doing a job at the top level.

The two 17 year olds’ introduction to Super League rugby could be the lasting legacy of Jones-Buchanan’s brief spell in charge.

Hetherington’s confirmation that the existing backroom staff will stay on to work with Smith caused some grumbling among fans, but Jones-Buchanan has certainly proved his worth and looks like a potential head coach at some stage in the future. Smith has, therefore, inherited a team on the up rather than one which appeared to be in terminal decline, but he still has a lot to do.

Improving Rhinos’ attack will be one priority. They remain the lowest scorers in Super League - with just 161 points from 11 matches, though they have conceded fewer than any other side in the bottom half.

The return of some first-choice players - and several could be back in the 17 for the next game, at Salford a week on Sunday - will help in that regard.

Discipline also needs sorting. Positive steps have been taken, with ‘only’ two yellow cards in the past six fixtures, but players continue to pick up suspensions and that has to stop.

Even so, there is a more positive mood around the club now - among players, staff and fans - and, with the next two games being against teams below Rhinos in the table, Smith has a real opportunity to get off to a flying start.