Leeds Rhinos star makes Rohan Smith ‘let down’ admission and praises youngsters

Louis Chapman Coombe
Jarrod O'Connor Leeds Rhinos Alamy

Leeds Rhinos hooker Jarrod O’Connor feels he and his team ‘let down’ former head coach Rohan Smith, stating it was their errors that ultimately cost him his job.

Smith had guided the Rhinos to the Grand Final in his first season in charge, however the club missed out on the playoffs all together in 2023. Following another inconsistent start to this season too, the Australian left his post by ‘mutual consent’ last week.

“It’s obviously been difficult (since Rohan Smith left), we didn’t expect it,” O’Connor told Love Rugby League.

“As players, we let him down a bit. It was our errors that cost us games, nothing to do with Rohan in the end. His gameplan was all good, but we just let him down.

He added: “It was a big shock in the week, but we just had to group together and realise we had a task at hand, and this game was bigger than all of us.”

Chev Walker and Scott Grix have taken the reigns since Rohan’s departure last Wednesday, and they guided Leeds to an 18-10 victory against Leigh on Friday night.

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The performance in that game was arguably Leeds’s best of the season, with the full squad putting stellar showings worthy of honouring the late Rob Burrow.

“We’re relieved we managed to put that performance in for Rob and end the night on a high note,” said O’Connor. “We’re just over the moon and honoured we got to honour Rob in the right way.”

“Everyone just had that extra bit of energy. I think that’s what we’ve been missing in the past couple of weeks, and we had that togetherness too and we definitely had that. A lot of us knew him, and that brought us together this week and it definitely showed on the pitch.”

The new-look spine, in particular, rose to the occasion. Brodie Croft and Matt Frawley combined for all three of the Rhinos tries against the Leopards, and O’Connor, fullback Lachie Miller and skipper Cam Smith all arguably put in their best displays this season.

“That was the most our spine has clicked all year. With some of our attack, it wasn’t the usual planned stuff it was more off the cuff, and it was working a bit more. We looked after the ball a lot more than we have recently as well; we didn’t concede as many unforced errors tonight. I think tonight was a step in the right direction.”

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The win against Leigh keeps Leeds in the race for the top six, and they now prepare for a clash with bottom-side London Broncos after the international break.

Leeds are currently in the midst of an concussion crisis. Seven of the current senior squad were out of action with concussion-related issues in the build up to Friday night’s game; four of which were also sustained in their 18-12 loss to Hull FC in round 12.

Ash Handley and Harry Newman-who are both fit again and able to play for England in the upcoming test against France-were two of the players who missed the game against Leigh, which meant youngsters Alfie Edgell and Ned McCormack stepped into the starting 13.

The pair had just eight Super League appearances between them prior to Friday night’s game, but both made a very good account of themselves in an emotional match, and O’Connor was full of praise for them.

“Alfie and Ned were outstanding. The whole team knew what they could do coming into it, but they’ve just proved themselves on one of the biggest nights they’ll play in for quite a while. We couldn’t have asked any more of them.”

If Friday night’s performance was anything to go by, the future is certainly bright for the young Leeds pair.

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