Leeds Rhinos legend Barrie McDermott names ‘best man’ to replace Rohan Smith

Ross Heppenstall
Barrie McDermott Leeds Rhinos Alamy

Sky Sports pundit Barrie McDermott - Alamy

Leeds Rhinos legend Barrie McDermott has touted Brad Arthur and Jason Demetriou as potential successors to Rohan Smith – but insists Salford boss Paul Rowley is the best man for the job.

The eight-time Super League champions are searching for a new head coach after Smith left Headingley by mutual consent on Wednesday, ending a tenure which lasted just over two years.

Ex-prop McDermott, who helped the Rhinos to their first league title in 32 years when beating Bradford Bulls in the 2004 Super League Grand Final, believes some of the vitriol aimed at Smith during the final days of his reign overstepped the mark.

The Sky Sports pundit told Love Rugby League: “It was a leftfield appointment when Rohan Smith was appointed – but he definitely made a difference when he came in.

“At the back end of 2022, the Rhinos made a Grand Final and looked like they could threaten anybody. From there they didn’t kick on and, in the end, it got to a point where it looked inevitable that Rohan would leave.

“It wasn’t a case of if – it was when – and I feel sorry for Rohan in many ways because it’s not gone the way he wanted to. He wanted to play the game a certain way and, when it clicked and everyone was on the same page, it was a really innovative style.

“I look at teams like Salford and Leigh and they try and play a similar way but their rate of success is better than the Rhinos’. All of us who follow the Rhinos were frustrated because when it went wrong it went disastrously wrong.”

Last week’s dismal 18-10 defeat at Hull FC proved Smith’s final game in charge and provoked a fierce backlash on the terraces.

McDermott added: “It looked like not just the fans had lost faith in the way that Rohan wanted to play but also the players wearing the Leeds jersey.

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“Some of the stuff I saw on social media was out of order but that’s the world we live in. Rohan is a good guy who did his best and came across as someone who cared about his players and wanted to entertain.

“But a lot of how rugby league is played has not changed for a very long time and to try and change that is a big shift. The likes of Wigan and St Helens have different ways of winning games – the toughness with the ability to entertain.

“The short kick-offs, the little trick plays – the short-cuts – they are things which should not be the basis of your gameplan. It’s always sad when someone loses their job, but Leeds Rhinos is a big club and I would say the biggest in the British game.

“The expectations there are very high because they’re not just expected to be in finals but to win finals.

“Leeds brought in a number of significant signings during the off-season which led me to believe they could certainly be a top-six team but maybe a top-four side. Yet they look absolutely nowhere near that.”

As chief executive Gary Hetherington and sporting director Ian Blease consider their options, McDermott believes there are three outstanding candidates.

“I have no knowledge of budgets or availability, but I’d say it’s either going to be Paul Rowley, Jason Demetriou or Brad Arthur,” suggested McDermott.

“For me it’s got to be one of those three and I think Paul Rowley would be my number-one pick because he would be a good fit straight away.

“He would suit Leeds down to the ground with the way that he plays the game. Leeds want success but the Headingley faithful demand to be entertained as well.

“I saw that during my time as a player there – we combined skill with toughness and stepped onto the field knowing we were going to win – and then during the Brian McDermott era.”

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Danny McGuire won eight Super League titles during his glittering playing career at Leeds and has been tipped as a future Rhinos head coach.

He served as assistant coach at Hull Kingston Rovers before joining Castleford Tigers in the same role at the start of the current campaign.

Asked whether he felt McGuire could take the vacant Leeds post, McDermott replied: “I think it’s too early for Danny.

“The size of the job demands that the next person be ready to take it on as a head coach. I’d love to see Danny come in as an assistant coach capacity and someone like Danny Ward too.

“Danny Mags and Danny Ward have blue and amber in their veins and both of them would certainly add something, although I feel it’s too early for either of them to take the reins completely.”

Chev Walker and Scott Grix served under Smith and have been placed in temporary charge as the search for a new head coach gets underway.

“Chev is a good mate of mine and seems to have done a good job, so if he can complement and fit in line with the new head coach then I see no problem with keeping him involved,” added McDermott.

Meanwhile, Rhinos prop Mikolaj Oledzki was on the receiving end of some stinging criticism from Sky Sports pundit Jon Wilkin following last week’s defeat at Hull FC.

McDermott is a long-time admirer of the Poland-born England international and backed Oledzki to bounce back. He said: “I’ve exchanged a few messages with Mikolaj and told him that he has to internalise that criticism.

“It’s about having controlled aggression and Mikolaj is one of a number of players in that pack who I hope can take Jon Wilkin’s comments and pin them up on the wall in the dressing room, like Salford did a couple of years ago, and ensure that those kinds of words are never said about them again.”


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