St Helens v Leeds Rhinos: Coach Rohan Smith selecting from position of rare strength

BOSS ROHAN Smith has vowed to pick the best team for the job when Leeds Rhinos visit Betfred Super League champions St Helens tonight.

By Peter Smith
Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 3:58 pm

Rhinos were down to the bare bones when Smith arrived at the club less than two months ago, but his dilemma now is who to leave out.

Scrum-half Aidan Sezer will start today after being sidelined by a groin injury since the end of March, second-rower James Bentley is available following a three-match ban and skipper Kruise Leeming returns after missing the defeat at Huddersfield two weeks ago because of illness.

With only long-term casualties Jack Walker and Tom Briscoe and suspended duo Tom Holroyd and Muizz Mustapha unavailable, some established players could miss out.

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BACK IN THE GAME: Leeds Rhinos' Aidan Sezer returns from injury to face Super League rivals St Helens. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Rhinos have already released Alex Mellor to Castleford Tigers, while Jack Broadbent has joined Featherstone Rovers on loan until the end of his contract this autumn and Smith stressed the coaches’ job is to “pick the players we feel will give us the best opportunity to play well this week”.

He said: “Aidan is a senior player in the group and he has had a bit of a disrupted first half of the season, but he is in good condition and there was never any doubt he’d be back in when he got the work under his belt.

“We have got flexibility with [full-back] Zak [Hardaker] who can play wing and centre as well, so that gives us some options [for today] and also for week to week, to do what we think is best.”

Smith insisted: “The opposition will be considered, for sure, but most of all it will be who we think is right, based on preparation and combinations with other guys in the team, how that looks on a weekly basis.

Leeds Rhinos' James Bentley is back in contention to face Super League rivals St Helens on Thursday night Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“Sometimes players are unavailable to train for periods of time during the week so sometimes that means somebody else who is fully fit and has done all the training is better placed to play that week.

“There’s lots of things that go into that.”

Smith confirmed Sezer, a Man of Steel nominee with Huddersfield in 2020, is “ready to play”.

He said: “He is in good condition, he has done an excellent rehab’ and he’s looking good.

Leeds Rhinos' head coach Rohan Smith Picture by John Clifton/SWpix.com

“I am expecting him to be himself and do what he has done for a long period of time.

“You don’t forget how to do that when you’ve been out injured, but I’m also urging him to take his time and not put too much on his own shoulders, just to get out there and help the team flow and kick and chase and do all those things he has built his game around.

“It is good to see him back out there for the first time since I’ve been here.

“It’s exciting, but we’ve got to get the ball rolling and play our best game.”

Bentley’s return will strengthen Rhinos’ pack and Smith is confident the former Saints man, who has been suspended three times this year, will keep his discipline in check.

He revealed: “James and I have been speaking about managing emotion for six weeks, since I’ve been here.

“I don’t think it changes too much this weekend, obviously he can’t control how the other team might try and poke him or annoy him, but he understands he needs to be in control of himself and be himself, get out there, play hard and compete.

“I think it will be a good occasion for the kid.”

Table-topping Saints have lost only twice in Super League and are on a 10-game winning streak against Rhinos.

Smith labelled them “pretty much the complete team” and admitted: “We are going to have to be at our very best to challenge them.

“We will be going to fire some bullets and try and generate some opportunities.

“They don’t beat themselves, that’s for sure, we are going to have to throw a bunch at them and also to defend well and scramble hard, as they will be doing.

“We are looking forward to the opportunity to test ourselves.”

St Helens (from): Welsby, Makinson, Hopoate, Grace, Lomax, Walmsley, Roby, Lees, Batchelor, Knowles, Lussick, Sironen, Paasi, Wingfield, Simm, Davies, Hurrell, Norman, Royle, Bennison, Hill.

Leeds Rhinos (from): Fusitu’a, Newman, Sutcliffe, Handley, Austin, Sezer, Oledzki, Leeming, Prior, Bentley, Martin, Tetevano, Dwyer, Myler, Smith,Thompson, Walters, O’Connor, Donaldson, Simpson, Hardaker.

Referee: Tom Grant (Leeds). Kick-off Today, 8pm.