Blake Austin reveals reasons behind Leeds Rhinos exit and Rohan Smith disappointment

Blake Austin

Blake Austin has lifted the lid on his sudden exit from Leeds Rhinos midway through last season: alleging that Rohan Smith told him he was going to remain at the club before giving him, in his words, “b******t reasons” about why he then changed his mind on a contract renewal.

Austin, speaking on his personal Instagram channel, has gone into great detail about the contract drama which become a high-profile saga in the media last year, conceding he ‘spat the dummy’ in the way it was handled before revealing he deliberately requested a release to join Castleford to get back at Smith.

He has stated that he was told by Smith after a victory over Huddersfield in April he would be given a new one-year deal by the Rhinos for 2024 before ultimately finding out several weeks later that deal would not be materialising due to a number of reasons including a previously-unknown training ground bust-up with Cameron Smith.

Austin explained: “I spat the dummy a little bit for sure, but I was pretty upset with how my contract was dealt with. I was 33 years old and Rohan was aware of what I was capable of, but as it panned out there was a game at Headingley against Huddersfield.

“I had a pretty good match and we celebrated the match in the lovely sheds of Headingley after and Rohan took it upon himself to come over and sit next to me. We basically had a chat to say if I’m happy to stick around he wants me to stay for another year.

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“It’s a one-year contract on the same money I’m on which was fairly modest for my abilities: as we know Leeds don’t pay their players as well as some other clubs. But at that stage we’d bought a house my kids had settled and I was very excited by that news, I knew where I was going to be for the next 12 months – or so I thought.”

Austin then explained how things took a dramatic turn in an opposite direction. “Over the next six weeks we continued playing footy, the team’s form was a bit up and down and mine was a little bit too.

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“But I hadn’t heard anything back from Rohan to suggest anything had changed. So I started quizzing my agent, and he said it was best I went asked for a conversation with Rohan and find out what’s going on.

“I knocked on his door and we get engaged in a conversation, one of the harder chats that I’ve had throughout my career. Rohan is a guy I’d really learned to trust and really like, and this was the first disappointment I had with Rohan, it didn’t spell the end but it was certainly a disappointing chat.

“I knocked on the door and said, ‘that chat we had six weeks ago, I’m just checking where we’re at with it’. His reply was that there had been a few things over the last little while that had made him reconsider.

“I said well, that’s all good and well, but you engaged in conversation with me to tell me you wanted me to stick around and I felt like he enjoyed delivering that good news to me so I felt I was owed the courtesy of letting me know if things had changed.

“He acknowledged he’d got that wrong and he should have called me back in to let me know. I was getting asked my family, friends, players and I kept saying I was going to be here and everything would get sorted soon.”

Austin then detailed: “He gave me three pretty b******t reasons which added to my frustrations. One was that I had an epidural on my back which I never asked for, another was I had a little tiff with Cam Smith on the training paddock, it was a little back and forth.. nothing major.

“The other was a fair call though, I played a game away at Leigh and I tried a bit too hard. We lost Aidan and me and Jack Sinfield were in the halves and instead of letting the young kid carry his weight in the team I tried to shoulder both halves’ responsibility and tried too hard and we lost the match. So I was in agreement with that one, but my biggest gripe was he didn’t feel the need to come back and let me know.

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“I felt at 33 I had that respect to at least at a bare minimum keep me in the loop. A coach coming to players to discuss contracts is not something I’ve ever done, I pay my agent for those types of conversations.

“He was fresh in the coaching role and as it panned out, it affirmed to me it’s best to be left with the agents rather than fracturing a relationship between a player and a coach.

“On the back of that chat, he also said he wasn’t definitely not going to keep me, but he’s just reconsidering. I just felt like what he’s saying is I’m going to scour the world, try and find another five-eighth, one that’s younger and if I don’t find anything you can just sit there and wait and I’ll just throw you a bone at the end of that search party. I was pretty upset.”

Austin then explained how after an upturn in his form after that conversation with Smith, he then got approached by Gareth Widdop to see if he would be interested in a move to Castleford.

He said: “I won player of the month and in an interview with Jon Wilkin, I let everyone know I have no idea where I’m at with my contract, Rohan hasn’t given me an update – and I have to watch his press conferences to find out my chances of staying at the club.

“In hindsight it was me spitting the dummy a bit but also me not caring about the consequences of speaking like that. Deep down I think the club was probably pretty upset but nobody from the club expressed that. It was an interesting time, then I got a call from Gareth Widdop who said Castleford were looking at trying to stay up and how do I feel about helping them try to stay up and remain in Super League.”

Austin then revealed: “I thought, what better way to get back at the guy that has been stuffing me around a little bit than ask for a release 12 hours before deadline day.

“It obviously left my team-mates in a tough spot and I expressed a real sorry to them guys, even though words don’t mean much. If I had my time again I might do things differently but I thought I was owed a bit more respect than what I was getting too. I was on a very modest contract for an Australian half coming and playing in that league, I was playing a decent brand.”

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