Super League side sack head coach after latest embarrassing setback

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Rohan Smith leaves Leeds Rhinos after spending two years at the Headingley helm

Leeds Rhinos are beginning the hunt for a new coach after Rohan Smith’s departure “with immediate effect” this afternoon.

The club announced Smith’s departure, after 25 months at the helm, at around 4.15pm - three days after an embarrassing 18-10 defeat at Hull FC. Smith’s former assistants Chev Walker and Scott Grix will take Thursday’s final training and will be in charge for Friday night’s home game against Leigh Leopards.

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That fixture takes place on global motor neurone disease awareness day and is dedicated to celebrating the life of club legend Rob Burrow who died three weeks ago. Smith was appointed in April 2022 and steered the club to that year’s Betfred Super League Grand Final, but they finished eighth last season - missing out on the play-offs by two places - and are seventh in the table midway through this year.

Rhinos have won half their 14 league matches so far and fell at the first hurdle in the Challenge Cup. They are four points adrift of sixth-placed Salford Red Devils, whose coach Paul Rowley will now be linked with the Headingley role.

In a statement issued by Rhinos, Smith said: “I had always stated it was a long-term project to establish a team that will be able to have sustainable success and I believe we have assembled a roster that can continue to push for a 2024 play-off spot, the supporters can get behind the boys and give them their support.

“Friday will be a special night for the club and we wanted to remove the ongoing coaching speculation and distraction. Celebrating Rob’s life, the great work done by the club and Kev [Sinfield] for the MND community and playing well is the focus for Friday.

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“I believe this team can still achieve great things and I am proud of the work the coaching team have done to develop players, especially the next generations. Unfortunately, I will not be head-coach to see this development continue, but I look forward to watching the club’s future successes and wish everyone at the club all the best for the future.”

Smith was appointed by chief executive Gary Hetherington, who said: “It is always disappointing to lose a head coach, especially someone like Rohan who has done so much good work behind the scenes since his arrival two years ago. At that point we were sat near the foot of the table, but he re-invigorated us to reach the Grand Final with an incredible run of form.

“However, it is fair to say the Rhinos’ results and performances this season have not met all our expectations to get us back to where we want to be. The board has a long term strategy for where we want the club to be in the future, which started with the appointment of Ian Blease as our first sporting director. Ian is now carefully considering our options moving forward before making his recommendations to the board.”

Paying tribute to Smith, Hetherington added: “On behalf of everyone at the Rhinos, I would like to thank Rohan for his dedication and hard work as head-coach. It is rare to meet a coach who is so passionate about rugby league, at all levels and personally, having brought Rohan and his young family over to England, it is sad his time at the club has not brought the success I know he so much desired and we both believed possible at the outset.”

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Smith’s exit came on Blease’s third day as sporting director. The new man said: “Whilst I have only arrived at the club recently, I have seen from my meetings with the rugby staff and players how well respected Rohan is.

“We must manage this change carefully so the players can focus fully on their performances, starting this Friday against Leigh. My review of our rugby operation is ongoing and clearly the scope of those recommendations will now need to widen with Rohan’s departure.

“That process starts now to appoint a new head-coach who we believe will be talented and suitable to take the club into a new era. Assistant-coaches Chev Walker and Scott Grix will take the final training session of the week on Thursday and will be in charge on Friday night against Leigh. We then have no game next week for the international break so that will allow us to plan further into the future.”

Though Smith’s exit had seemed inevitable, it is a surprise it happened so close to gameday, particularly when the focus would be on Burrow and his life and career. However, the move avoids a damaging repeat of the toxic atmosphere which marred last week’s loss at Hull.