Sky Sports pundit names favourite for Leeds Rhinos job, makes Gary Hetherington prediction

Aaron Bower
Rohan Smith Leeds Rhinos

Sky Sports pundit Jon Wells insists he would be amazed if Brad Arthur wasn’t being lined up to be the next head coach of Leeds Rhinos – insisting he believes the club’s hierarchy must have had a replacement in mind before parting ways with Rohan Smith.

The Rhinos are underway with their search for Smith’s replacement, with the race to succeed him at AMT Headingley largely believed to be between former Parramatta coach Brad Arthur and Salford boss Paul Rowley.

And Wells, speaking exclusively to Love Rugby League, insists he believed Arthur is the obvious candidate – and that Gary Hetherington may have always had someone in mind before deciding on Smith’s eventual exit.

“I also don’t believe for a second that an operator with the experience of Gary Hetherington makes a call on removing a head coach without an idea of who the replacement may be,” Wells said.

“At the time of the decision there was a proven NRL coach sitting idle in the form of Brad Arthur, having left the Parramatta Eels back in May. I would be surprised if he wasn’t installed as head coach at Leeds before the end of the season.”

Wells also hinted he believes Rowley’s eventual preference may be to remain with Salford.

He said: “As for Paul Rowley, we he was always going to be the “2+2=4” candidate following Ian Blease’s defection from the Red Devils to the Rhinos the previous week.

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“Rowley is clearly a talented coach, but he has also expressed a desire to continue at Salford and has made it clear that he has unfinished business at Salford. That said, I am prepared to be proven wrong: the rumours were that he was close to joining Hull FC following overtures from West Hull earlier in the campaign.”

Wells also suggested he felt that there was a perception that the Leeds hierarchy ‘pulled the trigger too soon’ on Smith judging by the subsequent reaction.

“Leeds were always going to be the focus of a lot of attention in 2024,” he said.

“Due in part to the slew of high profile signings including Brodie Croft and Andy Ackers, but also because everyone has been waiting for them to re-take their position as ensconced in the top six after a period in the relative wilderness for a club with the financial clout and support base that Leeds possess.

“So a series of underwhelming performances – albeit sitting at 50% with 7 wins and 7 losses leading in to the week that saw Rohan and the club part ways – was not surprising in that context. But there is a lingering feeling, maybe not among fans of Leeds but in the wider rugby league community, that perhaps the trigger was pulled too soon by the Rhinos boardroom.

“I always look for player reaction when decisions like this are taken and it is clear, from the number of high profile players that have expressed their frustration over Smith’s exit, that they felt he remained the right man to navigate this period of the season and start to put pressure on those places outside the top three over the next 12 weeks or so.”

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