Rohan Smith sack debate: Leeds Rhinos future called into question with Hetherington facing ‘difficult’ decision

James Marshment
Rohan Smith Leeds Rhinos

Leeds Rhinos coach Rohan Smith

Rohan Smith may be starting to rest a little uneasy in his Leeds Rhinos job amid speculation he could be facing the sack amid a hugely-difficult season at Headingley.

The 42-year-old was brought in by Leeds back in the spring of 2022 as a permanent successor to Richard Agar. The axe had fallen on the latter after a poor start to the 2022 season, with Jamie Jones-Buchanan taking the reins in an interim basis in between.

And the arrival of Smith sparked a major resurgence for Leeds, with the Rhinos going on to reach the Grand Final that season. Although they fell short on the day, their recovery sparked hope that better was to come in 2023.

A solid recruitment drive then followed, with the likes of Justin Sangare, Derrell Olpherts and Sam Lisone among their arrivals.

However, Gary Hetherington hailing Smith as his ‘most important appointment since 2003’ at the time, doubts are now emerging over Smith’s future.

He was already hugely under scrutiny after a poor run of form this season. Indeed, a run of just one win in six games had already seen the pressure piled on Smith heading into this weekend’s fixtures.

Now that has raised up several more notches in the wake of an embarrassing 24-14 loss at basement boys Wakefield Trinity on Sunday. Prior to the match, Trinity had yet to taste victory in 14 matches this season.

However, a tame performance saw their Yorkshire rivals deservedly take the spoils and leave Smith in an awkward spot.

Speaking after the game, Smith accepted that his side were “nowehere near the standard”.

Furthermore, admissions that the performance was “a huge disappointment” and that “we just didn’t play well enough” do not reflect well on the Australian.

Rohan Smith sack: Rhinos coach is a man under pressure

That defeat leaves the Rhinos down in eighth and a worrying six points adrift of the play-offs with just 12 rounds to go.

Failure to make the top six will be tough for the Rhinos to take. It would also put Smith under intense pressure amid growing speculation another change at the top will be under consideration.

Discussing his future, Leeds Live claim in a report that his position is under some scrutiny.

And reporter Matthew Shaw claims the Rhinos board will be as worried by the manner of the performances as much as the results this season.

He also claims that even in their six victories this season, they have been “chaotic and not convincing”.

Now amid claims another change could be brewing, Shaw suggests Hetherington now has a decision to make.

He writes: ‘It ultimately comes down to whether you trust Smith to oversee the next stage of the rebuild, one that is now at a pivotal juncture.

‘He’s had time to mould the players he’s got and, let’s not forget, he got the club to a Grand Final. Now he has the cap space to sign the players who will complement them.

‘From a broad perspective, it’s too early to judge his first recruitment cycle and given the cap pressures, that needs to be taken into consideration too. But it’s fair to say that there is reason to be sceptical because some of the additions have not worked out, although others have.’

Smith needs rapid Rhinos improvement

Discussing whether Smith could lose his job and face the sack immediately, Shaw downplays that scenario.

However, is results do not pick up soon then Smith will undoubtedly see the pressure cranked up a notch.

‘Is there a decision to be made on Smith’s future right now? Probably not,’ Shaw adds. ‘But if there is, the timing of the last two defeats is awkward to say the least.

‘At the height of recruitment, making that transition is practically the worst time possible. Yet then, if things somehow get worse, things only get more difficult again.’

Leeds next face Huddersfield Giants at Headingley on Friday June 23, before trips to tackle Warrington Wolves and Salford Red Devils. Following that is a home clash against Hull KR, giving Rhinos the chance to hopefully put some points on the board.

But failure to win three of these games will leave Smith facing more calls on his future.

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