I don’t think anyone predicted Leeds to beat Wigan 42-12 last night, but the Rhinos shocked the league by doing to the Warriors what we’ve seen Wigan do to so many teams this year.
It was the biggest indicator of the progress under Rohan Smith and showed the kind of rugby the Rhinos are looking to play under their new boss as he strives to develop a new culture and more success at Headingley after a few years in the wilderness.
After the game, Smith unsurprisingly indicated his pride at the landmark victory as well the consistency of the performance from minute one to 80.
“We’ve had some quality performances,” Smith reflected, “And patches in other games but I thought we were very consistent throughout the game. We defended very smart together. Their opportunities were limited to their most dangerous players. We did a great job in defence tonight.
“It was a good hard arm wrestle at the beginning of the game. We had the first try, it was a contest and it bounced our way and we managed to get six up.
“It was a good hard game of footy I thought for the majority there. They were chasing points and we held our line pretty well I thought.”
He also felt that Harry Newman’s try just after halftime was a key moment in the victory. That came after a great intercept and awesome pace from Ash Handley and was smartly finished off by Newman from attacking half.
On this, he said: “It’s important you don’t get scored on just before halftime and then to score first in the second half however long that takes is definitely a theme we’re attempting to work on and then if you can score the last try, if you can do a couple of those things you’ll be in a good position.”
It would have been easy to praise individuals like Newman who was exceptional in defence whilst Richie Myler was brilliant at organising the Rhinos in the halves.
However, Smith praised the team performance rather than identifying individuals: “It was a very good team performance. Harry will get a lot of recognition but I think what our middle unit did in that first half, they kept turning up. Sometimes they were marching us down field a bit but they didn’t get behind us.
“We only made one sub by halftime and it allowed us to make strategic interchanges to get the energy strong through our middle.”
What made the win all the more impressive was the fact not everything went the way of the Rhinos with young Corey Johnson a late withdrawal from the fixture.
“Corey was going to play some time off the bench at dummyhalf,” Rohan Smith said, “That’s his number one position is hooker. But he was ill yesterday and was still a bit rough today. He wanted to play but being such a young man, inexperienced and coming off 38 degree heat last week, I thought it was best to go with Muizz off the bench and he added great energy. It was great to see him come back after such a long time away.”
This suggests that the decision to play Cameron Smith at six was tactical. It certainly paid off with the loose-forward by trade crossing for a superb try looking like a top halfback as he went through a gap.
His coach was keen to praise him and his halfback partner Richie Myler after the game: “I’m a big believer in playing as a team and not depending on your halves to be able to play a decent style of footy. They’re there to compliment your team process because when they’re not there, you still want to be able to play like we did tonight.
“They both did a good job and jumped at the opportunity. It’s yet another spine combination that we’ve had.”
Returning to the subject of things that didn’t quite go Leeds’ way, David Fusitu’a went off with an ankle injury.
On Fusitu’a, Smith said: “He had a bit of an ankle at halftime but he felt right to keep going and he was playing well. It got to the point where it was a bit sore.
“They’re in there assessing whether it’s a ligament type thing or if it just got jammed up. If it is jammed up he might be okay. If it’s a ligament strain he might struggle for Catalans.”
On a more positive note, Rohan Smith spoke about the atmosphere at Headingley last night as the Rhinos returned home for the first time in 62 days.
It was perhaps the best atmosphere in the South Stand for years even before a ball was kicked and exponentially increased as the Rhinos shone.
On this, Smith said: “The way that the crowd and the energy coming from the grand stand was strong from the start and it only helped to get the boys through.”