Rohan Smith: Leeds Rhinos head coach brings ‘diverse’ approach to pre-season ahead of 2023 Super League

Marc Bazeley

@MarcBazeley

Head coach Rohan Smith is in the midst of his first pre-season at Leeds after taking charge in May and guiding them back to the Super League Grand Final; watch the Rhinos kick off the 2023 season away to Warrington Wolves live on Sky Sports on Thursday, February 16

Last Updated: 22/12/22 8:48am


Rohan Smith is preparing for his first full season as Rhinos head coach

Rohan Smith is a man who likes to do things a little differently, although the as far as the Leeds Rhinos head coach is concerned there is nothing too unorthodox behind his approach.

Even so, there might not be many other teams in Super League who have brought in a local Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach for a martial arts session as part of their pre-season training programme like this year’s Grand Final runners-up did recently.

Yet while the methods might be slightly different to what his rivals coaches are doing, they fit perfectly into the rugby league philosophy and ways of developing his players’ skillsets Smith espouses.

“To me, the things we’ve been doing are quite normal in a holistic, diverse approach to being a good athlete and an all-round player,” Smith said.

“That may be different to some other people’s preparations, but I think rugby league is such a sport for generalists rather than specialists, athletically and skill-wise as well.

“We’ve incorporated lots of different things with how we can move our body and control our body and compete.

“I think it’s a pretty well-worn path, but maybe the combination of it is different to most teams’ approach.”

Smith is currently in the midst of his first full pre-season as Rhinos boss, having joined four months into the 2022 season and overseen a spectacular transformation which saw the eight-time Super League champions go from battling against relegation to reaching the Grand Final.

Highlights of the Super League Grand Final between St Helens and Leeds Rhinos

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Highlights of the Super League Grand Final between St Helens and Leeds Rhinos

Highlights of the Super League Grand Final between St Helens and Leeds Rhinos

The 41-year-old is enjoying having more time to work with his squad as they aim to go one better in 2023 after going down 24-12 to St Helens in the Old Trafford showpiece, albeit with those players who were involved in the Rugby League World Cup missing the early part of pre-season.

However, being thrown straight into preparing a team for competitive fixtures after joining Leeds mid-season was not much of an issue for the nephew of former Rhinos head coach Tony Smith either.

“It was the circumstance, that was all,” Smith said. “I didn’t see it as a positive or negative, I just saw it as let’s do what we can week to week to give us the best chance to compete on gameday.

“We’ve got a little bit of a prolonged opportunity with pre-season, but it has also been very disrupted with the World Cup. We haven’t had everyone back together yet, which I’m sure other clubs are in a similar boat.

Smith guided Leeds to a Grand Final appearance after taking charge in May

Smith guided Leeds to a Grand Final appearance after taking charge in May

“It’s certainly not about me, there are a whole squad staff and playing group here who are on a collective journey and preparation style, and everyone is contributing. I’m glad to have a pre-season, I love pre-season and all the things which go into preparation for the season.

“I love in-season, but equally this is as enjoyable a period of time where you can see improvement and people preparing to play. Maybe our identity as a team is starting to take some shape through these weeks of hard work.”

Smith’s side will have their first hit out of pre-season on December 26 when they host Wakefield Trinity in the traditional Boxing Day friendly at Headingley, which will include new signings Derrell Olpherts, James McDonnell, Justin Sangare and Leon Ruan playing some part.

His focus in recent weeks has not just been on the first team though, with the Rhinos holding a joint training session which saw over 110 players from the men’s, women’s and physical disability sides come together at the club’s Kirkstall training complex.

Smith took inspiration for bringing the different teams together from something similar he did at his previous club Norths Devils in Australia, and is eager to ensure all parts of the Rhinos are working together as one club.

“It was great to get everyone together and something we thought was really important,” Smith said.

“Rather than a series of teams playing under one badge, it’s understanding everyone has got a part to play in the club being a success and that comes with interaction and connection between the different grades and teams.

“Sometimes we all get caught up worrying about our own little back yard, so it’s important to cross paths, and the energy and spirit was great, and everyone got what they needed to out of the day.

“It’s vital everyone feels part of something bigger than themselves and bigger than just their own team.”

The 2023 Betfred Super League season kicks off in February with two fixtures from Round 1 live on Sky Sports. Grand Final runners-up Leeds Rhinos travel to Warrington Wolves on Thursday, February 16, followed by promoted Leigh Leopards hosting Salford Red Devils on Friday, February 17.

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