Rohan Smith on Blake Austin, Liam Sutcliffe, suspensions and signing Championship players

Picture by Phil Daly/Leeds Rhinos/

Today ahead of their huge game against Hull KR, Rohan Smith spoke to the press.

The Rhinos currently sit sixth in the league with a one point lead on Hull KR, Salford and Hull FC. A win for Leeds would therefore open up a bigger lead on Hull KR at least as well as the others depending on results elsewhere but defeat would ensure that the Rhinos slipped out of the top six after just one week of being there.

Making things all the more difficult for Leeds is the absence of Aidan Sezer, David Fusitu’a and Rhyse Martin through bans, leaving a big call for Rohan Smith to make on the injured Blake Austin.

Austin has been training for a while now but hasn’t played since the Rhinos’ 62-16 win over Hull FC but he would surely solve Sezer’s absence.

On this, Smith said: “Those who are available will be playing. I need to weigh up with what we do with Blake Austin, whether he is ready to play. We are stills thinking that one over.

“He has trained well the last few days, but as a coach I’m always conscious about the longer term picture. I need to stew on that one a little bit longer.”

So, Smith may not want to rush Austin back, which could mean Corey Johnson or Jack Sinfield features in the halves.

What has led to this problem and Leeds having just a 19-man squad was a trio of bans this week for the Rhinos and Smith was very vocal on these.

He firstly explained the appeal process behind getting Sezer’s ban reduced to one-game.

“I spent a lot of time on Monday going through all of the trips that have been charged in the last couple of years and a lot of the grade B’s are quite minor,” Smith said, “Aidan got done with a grade C which was deemed an intentional trip. It was very reactionary as he got done by exceptional footwork. He never uses his legs to tackle and he hardly ever tackles around the legs.

“He had an instinct thing and we thought we had a fair case. They listened and deliberated and came back with some positive news.”

He was however bemused by Rhyse Martin’s one-match ban and noted how damaging it was to lose three players for incidents where no one was hurt: “I think a lot has been said about that one through the press and social media. I’m probably not too sure what to say about that one myself. I think the severity of a lot of the charges is on the high end. To miss a game for a player at any stage is a major punishment.

“Players play and they train and it means a lot to them so we’ve got a devastated player that is missing a game for that.

“I think it’s disappointing for the fans to be missing out on the best players playing. We’ve lost three experienced, in form players in one weekend for incidents that didn’t hurt or harm anyone.”

Speaking of losing players, Leeds confirmed this week the loss of Liam Sutcliffe for 2023 as he joins Hull FC on a three year deal.

Smith opened up on his departure today: “There is a lot to it and there’s an opportunity for Sutty to secure his long-term future. He’s done the club well and its one of those that happens.”

It does beg the question, what other incomings will join Justin Sangare and James McDonnell.

Leeds have been linked with Castleford’s Derrell Olpherts as well as Championship duo Luke Hooley and Nene MacDonald.

If those two Championship stars joined McDonnell at Headingley, that would be three players signed from the Championship.

On going to the second tier for signings, Smith said: “I think it is a good way to manage your salary cap and the succession plan in bringing in players on the fringe. It takes time to develop, the NRL shows that. A bunch of players in the last few years have debuted at 27, Jonathon Reuben made his debut for the Dragons in 29, some people take longer to
develop than others.”

Smith’s big call and recruitment policy

A press conference in which we learnt a lot.

Firstly on the subject of Friday’s game, it seems Blake Austin is 50/50 to play. I understand Smith’s concerns moving forward but I still believe that it would make sense to play Austin here.

It’s a must win game and you could afford to rest him against Warrington as Sezer will be back for that battle. So, it’s worth asking Austin to play this week intending to rest him the week after.

Turning to the bigger picture, Smith seems very happy to turn to the Championship for signings perhaps from his experience with working and developing players in Australia to get them ready for the NRL.

I fully expect any signing Smith makes to really develop under his guidance.

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