Ian Blease discusses Rohan Smith position at Leeds Rhinos and Paul Rowley links

Aaron Bower
Ian Blease

New Leeds Rhinos sporting director Ian Blease alongside Gary Hetherington

New Leeds Rhinos sporting director Ian Blease has insisted that Rohan Smith has his full support as head coach of the Super League club – and has played down inevitable speculation Paul Rowley could follow him to Headingley.

Blease has been confirmed as the new man to head up Leeds‘ on-field direction, after ending a 20-year association with Salford Red Devils to take up a newly-created position in West Yorkshire.

Blease inherits a Leeds squad marooned in mid-table and in real danger of failing to make the Super League play-offs in 2024, with pressure increasing externally on current Rhinos head coach Smith. They head to Hull FC this weekend where a defeat would undoubtedly ramp up that pressure on Smith even further.

But the new man at the Rhinos has insisted that while he will conduct a ‘root and branch’ review over the coming week before officially starting at Headingley next Monday, he intends to sit down with Smith and map out a long-term future for Leeds with him.

“He’s a good guy,” Blease said.

“I don’t know intimately what he’s been working on behind the scenes but I’ll spend time in the coaches room with him to see how he works. Gary (Hetherington) tells me good things about him and it’s too early for me to judge him at the moment.

“I’ve known Rohan for a while. When I was an agent I dealt with him. It’s unfair for me to comment yet because I don’t officially start until Monday. Rohan is doing the job to the best of his ability and I’ll support him on that.”

When asked if Smith had Blease’s full backing, the 59-year-old said: “Yes.”

With Blease making the move from Salford to Leeds, it has perhaps unsurprisingly led to suggestions that Red Devils head coach Rowley may be next to follow suit if the Rhinos eventually part company with Smith.

And Blease played that suggestion down – insisting it was not something he had given particular thought to.

“That’s for you guys to put it on paper, and speculate about,” Blease said.

“It’s my first day in the job, my first press conference and it would be unfair to comment on things. I don’t want to put any pressure on people or assume something might happen, because it might not.

“I’ve had great relationships with people I’ve worked with and I’ll always keep them healthy. But this is about getting my feet under the table of this club.”

Blease admitted it was with a heavy heart he ended his lengthy association with Salford, but suggested it was the right time for both parties to head in a new direction.

“It’s probably a good time for them to look at some different ways of doing things,” he said.

“It only happened last Wednesday and we had some great conversations but it’s the right time for both parties and when that happens in sport, I think you can be satisfied with how things have worked out.”

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