Salford Red Devils 23 Leeds Rhinos 8: Rohan Smith era begins in same way Richard Agar's ended

There was a new face at the helm, but familiar problems resurfaced as Leeds Rhinos were thumped 23-8 at Salford Red Devils on Sunday.

By Peter Smith
Sunday, 15th May 2022, 9:22 pm

Rhinos went into Rohan Smith’s first game as coach on the back of successive wins and some improved performances while Salford had lost all their six fixtures since the win over Leeds in March which ended Richard Agar’s reign.

It seemed like the perfect opportunity for Smith to get off to a flier and Leeds to put distance between themselves and the foot of the table.

But, in front of a crowd of 4,473, Rhinos came up with their poorest performance since the previous trip to AJ Bell Stadium and Salford were deserved victors.

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Ash Handley beats former teammate Kallum Watkins' tackle to score for Rhinos. Picture by John Clifton/SWpix.com.

This defeat was at least as bad as the previous one on the same ground, when they were in front going into the final quarter before falling apart.

In fact, the margin was a point worse - 14 in March and 15 this time.

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With their next opponents, Wakefield Trinity, losing at Toulouse Olympique, Rhinos dropped only one place - to 10th - in Betfred Super League, but the gap over the French side is down to three points.

Mikolaj Oledzki scores a late consolation try for Rhinos. Picture by John Clifton/SWpix.com.

Smith will have learned plenty about his side, but if he thought he had anything other than an extremely tough job on his hands, he now knows better.

Up against a side who threw something at them, unlike Hull KR in the previous game, Leeds were very poor.

Effort was not lacking, but once they conceded the opening try, after a relatively solid start, Rhinos were second-best and the scoreline did not flatter Salford.

Rhinos still have some influential players missing, but with Zak Hardaker making his second debut for the club and Richie Myler, David Fusitu’a, Zane Tetevano and James Bentley all back in the starting side, it was a much stronger 17 than in recent weeks.

Rohan Smith, centre, watches on during Rhinos' defeat at Salford. Picture by John Clifton/SWpix.com.

When they are all fit and available, as they were in this game, Salford have an excellent backline and they were too good for Leeds.

With stand-off Brodie Croft calling the shots, Rhinos were split open on either flank for the first two tries, though the third was a scrambled effort from a kick.

Their ineffectual attack is Rhinos’ main problem and though they managed to get into some good positions, they made far too many errors and when they did hang on to the ball, they were defied by strong goal line defence from the hosts.

After nine minutes, Rhinos received three successive penalties, but Bentley was penalised in possession - for passing after a tackle had been completed - to take the pressure off.

In the resulting set, Salford surged upfield, moved the ball wide and Dean Cross’s final pass was finished by Ken Sio.

Then, in the set from the restart, Marc Sneyd sent Tim Lafai into space and Joe Burgess was in support to complete back-to-back tries.

Sneyd improved the second and Leeds trailed 10-0 after 13 minutes.

At the start of the second half, Rhinos received back-to-back penalties and again couldn’t make them count, James Donaldson knocking on from Brad Dwyer’s pass.

A team with more confidence in attack would have come away with something from repeat sets near the opposition’s line.

Leeds’ only first half try reduced the deficit at the end of the opening quarter.

Sio spilled Croft’s pass near Salford’s line which set up field position for Ash Handley to go over from Rhyse Martin’s offload.

Though he wasn’t named in their initial 21-man squad, Salford gave a debut off the bench to Rhinos academy product Tyler Dupree who joined them in midweek from Widnes Vikings.

He got over the line on 27 minutes, from Andy Ackers’ pass, but it was a double-movement and the touchdown was ruled out.

Cameron Smith was close to pulling a try back, but Ryan Brierley and Sneyd combined to hold him up over the whitewash.

Rhinos missed another opportunity when Bodene Thompson spilled a pass by Smith, who should have taken the tackle.

That led to Salford’s scrappy third try, Ackers touching down after Croft’s kick rebounded off a post, flat-footing the defence.

Sneyd’s goal made it 16-4 at the break and that was despite a seven-two penalty count in Leeds’ favour.

Rhinos looked a bit better in the third-quarter, but were still unable to mount sustained pressure though and didn’t ask enough questions of Salford’s defence.

Handley did get over with 16 minutes left, but Leeming’s pass to him went forward off Myler. Three minutes after that Sneyd landed a drop goal to open a three-score gap and in the set after that Croft created some space and sent Brierley in for a try which Sneyd improved.

A positive - maybe the only one - was Leeds’ discipline. They conceded five penalties to Salford’s 13 and managed to avoid any cards - though the six-again count was six-four in the hosts’ favour.

With five minutes left referee James Child sin-binned Ackers for persistent offending and Mikolaj Oledzki went over in the resulting set.

Individually, Smith and Martin both had some good moments, Handley worked hard - as ever - and there were a couple of strong runs from Fusitu’a in the second half, but overall it was a step backwards.

Kallum Watkins, one of four former Leeds men in the home 17, had a fine game in Salford’s second-row.