What can't be argued against is Smiths record at Leeds. He is the only coach in the Superleague era that has seen us lift the major trophy in the game. He's coached us to the minor premiership, two grand finals and a Challenge Cup final, not a bad record in three years. He has fostered an environment of success at the club, which is evident from the current disquiet so far this season, despite us being tied at the top of the table. Over the last three years we've come to 'expect' to win, whereas with Powell and Lance before him we had 'hoped' to win. The Rhinos have definitely moved forward under the Smith stewardship.|
But....and it is a big but!
Tony Smith has made some stonking bad decisions in his time at Headingley which prove his fallibility. Dropping McDermott and playing Senior in the 2005 Challenge Cup Final was probably the most memorable of these. Last seasons play-off exit to Paul Cullens Warrington was a joke; tactical misjudgements with strange substitutions and on-field options have cost us points we should have secured; and the repeated use of players out of position has meant that we have not seen some players operate to their best potential (Jamie Peacock being the most obvious case).
Now Tony is off to pastures new, but not until the end of the season. This really is causing me some confusion. Did the decision take the usually well prepared Gary Hetherington so much by surprise that he didn't have a Plan B ready to swing into action?
Anyone who resigns from a job because they have sought and secured new employment will know that they can not possibly give 100% to the job that they are leaving. It is not realistic to expect them to, they have an eye on their future. In Smiths case we are even allowing him to start his GB duties while continuing as Rhinos head coach, so we acknowledge that he won't be 100% focussed. Where else can you start working for your new employers while still being on your old companies payroll?
Any GB or England hopeful will now feel that they have a point to prove when their side plays against the Rhinos. All teams are likely to raise their game a notch further to impress, and our players will be on the receiving end. Will Tony Smith be filling his notebook with areas for the Rhinos to improve, or notes on opposition players who he thinks are GB contenders?
I can't help but feel that the 2007 season just got a lot tougher for the Rhinos. Hopefully we've not missed an opportunity, and as soon as Gary secures the replacement, he'll be asking TS to vacate the 'big chair' and make way for his successor. Tony, thanks for all the memories, and good luck in your new job. I think you'll need it!