Rohan Smith: Why performance is all-important for Leeds Rhinos coach in Super League debut at Salford Red Devils

New coach Rohan Smith says the focus for his first Leeds Rhinos game is a good performance, rather than what that will mean to the league table - and that’s how it will be throughout his time at the club.

By Peter Smith
Saturday, 14th May 2022, 6:00 am

The Australian has taken over a team on the up after back to back wins which lifted them from second-bottom to ninth in Betfred Super League.

Victories at 10th-placed Salford Red Devils tomorrow and home to Wakefield Trinity, who are 11th, next Friday would have Rhinos knocking on the door of the top six.

But Smith, who coached Norths Devils to the Queensland Cup title in 2021, insisted: “I am not a table watcher.”

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Rohan Smith takes charge of Rhinos in a game for the first time on Sunday. Picture by Phil Daly/Leeds Rhinos/SWpix.com.

He said: “The team I coached last year, we lost two games, but I don’t look at the ladder.

“It is significant for fans, but for me it is about the performance on the weekend - then it will be about next week’s performance and chasing that.

“They are all worth two points and that’s what we’ll be going for every week.”

Tomorrow’s game is an opportunity to make a statement as Rhinos return to AJ Bell Stadium eight weeks after a 26-12 defeat there brought Richard Agar’s time as coach to an end.

Zak Hardaker is set to make his first Rhinos appearance for six year. Picture by Phil Daly/Leeds Rhinos/SWpix.com.

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Salford have lost all their six games since then, but - like Leeds - will have some first-choice players back on the field tomorrow.

“I have watched a bunch of them on video,” Smith said.

“We’ve discussed as a staff where we see their strengths and where we’ll need to be good to combat that.

Max Simpson has impressed Rhinos boss Rohan Smith. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

“I am expecting a very, very competitive, tough, physical game from two teams that are looking forward to stepping forward after a weekend off.

“I think after a weekend off everyone’s desperate to get out there and play well.”

Smith has not revealed how Rhinos will line up, but has some decisions to make with five players available after injury and two set to return from suspension.

Zak Hardaker could come in at full-back or centre for his first Rhinos appearance since 2016, but Smith stressed his policy will be horses for courses.

“Long-term, I am not exactly sure,” Smith said of Hardaker’s role in the side.

“Zak and I have spoken and we’ve got a bunch of players who are very versatile.

“Richie Myler, Rhyse Martin can play centre or back-row easily, there’s versatility there so I’ve spoken to those guys who are versatile players [and told them] what the team needs on a weekly basis is where we will be headed with it.

“Zak understands he has multiple positions that can help the team so that will be a week to week proposition.”

With Myler also back in contention and Jack Broadbent having impressed in the past two games, Smith has some tough decisions to make over the way his backs line up.

“You want all of your players to be available and you want selection headaches keeping you up at night,” he insisted.

“That’s the dream of every coach, to have options and to be choosing what’s best for the team this week, rather than being limited.”

Rookies Max Simpson and Jack Sinfield have both been named in the squad for tomorrow, but are likely to drop out as more experienced players return.

Simpson is in the Yorkshire squad for Sunday’s academy Origin clash, with Sinfield among the Lancashire opposition.

Smith has been impressed with both the 17 years olds during their first taste of Super League and confirmed they remain part of his first team plans going forward.

“They’ve done really well,” he said.

“Nothing much seems to bother those guys, they step in and have a crack.

“They are well respected by the senior group as well, which is another thing.

“If they have earned their stripes in training and the older players respect them, they tend to take them with them..

“I look forward to them playing a key role as the season goes on.”