Rohan Smith’s 5 key Leeds Rhinos moments which led to his Headingley departure

Leeds Rhinos head coach Rohan Smith

Leeds Rhinos head coach Rohan Smith

Rohan Smith’s time as Leeds Rhinos head coach has come to an end after just over two years in charge – and there were a number of pivotal moments along the way which led to his departure.

From individual results which left fans frustrated to slightly more deep-rooted issues, there were some key decisions and some key moments which shaped the way Smith’s reign at Headingley ultimately came to an end.

Here are the most significant..

Persistence of questionable tactics

Leeds at their best under Smith were entertaining to watch. That is something even the most vociferous critic of Smith must conceded that.

But their lack of real structure in attack so often proved to be their undoing. The insistence for Leeds to play ‘eyes up’ rugby and ‘play what they see’ was really the one major philosophy of the playbook, and when it didn’t work, the Rhinos looked lost on more than one occasion. The next coach will need to provide the Rhinos hierarchy with a clear philosophy.

There were even intricacies if you scratch a bit deeper. The bizarre obsession with short kick-offs, which so often left Leeds defending their own territory more often than they should be doing, was one prime example. Those small nuances don’t mean much in isolation but added up, they create problems.

The Huddersfield Giants collapse

Poor performances and results at Headingley are always going to make the pressure on a Leeds Rhinos head coach somewhat intolerable.

And their defeat to Huddersfield in April, their fourth in a row at home at that point, was a turning point in Smith’s Rhinos career, with fan pressure rising from that moment onwards.

Leeds led 12-2 at one stage but somehow managed to completely throw the game away in the final stages, with an incredible implosion which included a staggering short drop-out from Lachie Miller that put Huddersfield in a position to score further points.

That was the night where things really began to unravel.

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Persisitence in under-performing spine

Smith was adamant for a number of weeks this season that his new-look spine of Lachie Miller, Brodie Croft, Matt Frawley and Andy Ackers would be given as much time to gel as possible.

However, Smith did have other options at his disposal but never really entrusted anyone to come in and play on a sustained basis outside of that quartet. Jack Sinfield was perhaps the obvious choice, but he has spent most of 2024 fluctuating between dual-registration at Halifax and reserve-grade rugby.

That’s not to say Sinfield would have undisputedly turned Leeds’ fortunes around. But as the Rhinos’ attack laboured, a freshening up felt sensible. However, it never really materialised.

Ian Blease’s arrival

Ian Blease
New Leeds Rhinos sporting director Ian Blease alongside Gary Hetherington

Blease was adamant no snap decisions on Smith’s future would be made at any one stage until he began his full-scale review. But we have seen in other sports – and indeed, in rugby league – that when a regime change happens above the coach, it often leads to a change in said coach.

It took Blease just 48 hours to determine that Leeds needed to head in a fresh direction. The mood music from all parties in the days leading up to it had the hallmark of Blease’s arrival proving to be a significant moment in the direction of travel Leeds were heading on. Smith simply couldn’t survive that.

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The manner of Saturday’s defeat, not the result

Brodie Croft, Hull FC v Leeds Rhinos
Leeds Rhinos’ Brodie Croft is tackled by Hull FC’s Herman Ese’ese during the Round 14 clash

Losing to a Hull FC side with one win to their name all season would have been bad enough. But Smith’s final game had all the hallmarks of a Leeds side bereft of any confidence and, dare we say it, ideas.

The Rhinos looked absolutely humbled and beaten for most of the afternoon, with the two late tries they salvaged adding a shade of respectability to the scoreline which they, really, didn’t deserve.

That felt like a line in the sand moment and with Blease beginning work less than 48 hours later, it felt as though the decision had been made essentially straightforward for him given how the Rhinos sank without a trace of fight.


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