This week Rohan Smith landed at Headingley hoping to spark the Rhinos back into life after a difficult start to the 2022 season. He’s the man handpicked to get Leeds back to where they once were – the Super League summit – but it’ll be a long job.
Smith has been given a three-and-a-half-year deal at Leeds and in that time will be tasked with developing a style of play, young players and an identity at Headingley which can make them Champions again.
So, there’s work to be done by Smith at Leeds. With that in mind, we’ve put together what we think will be Smith’s to do list as he puts his stamp on things at Headingley.
1. Get the best out of Zak Hardaker
Rohan Smith’s Headingley arrival coincided with the return of Zak Hardaker. One of the most gifted players in Super League and a former Rhino, he was crowned the Man of Steel in his final full season at Leeds before his controversial departure. A serial winner at Headingley, wherever he has gone there has been a touch of controversy, but when he’s had something to prove he’s always been something special. That will work in Smith’s favour but it’s true that the first thing on Smith’s to do list will be integrating Hardaker into the new culture he’s building at Headingley whilst getting him to play as well as he can. Doing so will give Leeds an almighty boost.
2. Halfback partnership
Leeds haven’t had a settled halfback partnership since the end of 2020. Going into this season, Leeds fans were excited to see Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer play alongside each other but the pair struggled to click. Since they last played together, both have struggled with injuries. Smith needs to firstly settle on a halfback pairing with Zak Hardaker’s arrival potentially turning Richie Myler into a halfback option rather than a fullback. So, Smith needs to settle on a fit and firing halfback pairing to get Leeds going.
3. Develop a new culture
No word has been mentioned at Leeds more in recent weeks than the magic ‘c’ word. But it’s true that the culture at Leeds is a long way off the winning culture that made them the best from 2004-17. Smith needs to get players thinking positively and develop a winning mentality at the club.
4. Establish a clear style of play
Leeds haven’t had a definable style of play over the last two seasons and this year have also seemingly abandoned the offload game which was always at the heart of the successful Rhinos teams of the past. Now a lot of this has been down to the unsettled halfback pairing, but it still has to be said that the Rhinos need a recognisable style of play to get fans invested and to notch a few more wins. After all, no team scored less points than them in the first 10 rounds.
5. Invest in youth
Leeds’ success was founded on talented young players and the Rhinos are developing some stars of the future again. Three teenagers starred in the win over Toulouse whilst other youngsters like Liam Tindall and Jarrod O’Connor have also shone this season. There’s some serious young talent at Headingley, and Smith should make them the core of his project.