Hull KR chief admits Tony Smith’s departure announcement came as a shock

Hull KR’s Chief Executive Officer Paul Lakin says Tony Smith’s departure announcement was a shock to all at the club.

Australian Smith, 55, will leave Craven Park at the end of the year. He has been the Robins head coach since 2019, leading them to the Play-Offs last term.

Back in April, his announcement came out of the blue during a press conference. It did however put an end to weeks of speculation surrounding his future. Prior to nephew Rohan getting the Leeds job, Smith had been heavily linked with a return to the Rhinos.

“It was a surprise. None of us were prepared for it. We were talking to Tony about an extension,” Lakin told Super League’s Out of Your League podcast.

“I genuinely was shocked. I was in the room next to him. He was doing the press announcement and I was in my office.

“For myself, Neil [Hudgell, Chairman] was away. He was on the phone to me and the media team, it was chaos. I got a message from Neil as the press conference found out.

“Tony was out of contract at the end of the season and on May 1, you’ve got the recruitment [window opening] then conversations start to happen.

“It was a very difficult situation for myself and Neil to understand how we could attract players when we didn’t know who the coach was going to be. That was something that was an issue for us, undoubtedly.”

Bust Up? Made Up

Smith took over midway through the 2019 season, replacing the sacked Tim Sheens. KR finished second bottom, recording the same points tally as relegated London, but survived via points difference.

The following year, the Robins ended bottom of the pile but again were spared relegation, this time due to Toronto’s withdrawal from the competition during the COVID Pandemic.

Last term, Smith turned things around. The side reached the Play-Off semi-final, beaten by Catalans. However, things this year haven’t quite gone to plan with KR sat 7th.

Lakin added, “If you’re asking me if we (me and Tony) have had some big stand-up arguments, we haven’t. That’s not been the case.

“Have we had disagreements? Absolutely. Do most head coaches and CEOs have disagreements? Absolutely.

“Was there a moment where ‘oh it was that day and we’ve never recovered from that day’? No, not in my eyes.”

Onwards and Upwards 

Smith’s fellow Australian Willie Peters will take over at Craven Park from next season. The 43-year-old has signed a three-year deal.

Peters has previously served as the assistant coach at South Sydney Rabbitohs under Wayne Bennett. He also assumed the same position at Newcastle Knights in 2020.

“We’re really excited. We’ve put a lot of investment in the last couple of years in our younger first team players,” said Lakin.

“We play an expansion type of football which Tony has introduced and very successfully at that. The announcement [of him leaving] was a real surprise, but what wasn’t what a surprise is that we knew we had a coach out of contract at the end of the season.”

With a spot in the play-offs still very much achievable, KR will end the season under the tenure of Smith. They welcome Huddersfield on Sunday live on Sky Sports.

PODCAST: John Kear on international rugby league, re-structure & new Widnes role

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