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Rohan Smith future, Rhyse Martin contract & prop signing: Ian Blease faces whirlwind start at Leeds Rhinos

Ian Blease begins his job as Sporting Director of Leeds Rhinos today and his to-do list will be very lengthy with the former Salford man facing a whole host of problems to solve, however, there seem to be three that he must prioritise.

It’s never boring at Headingley it would seem with Leeds Rhinos one of those clubs that is constantly abuzz with something happening and Ian Blease will be finding that out today as he sets about his new role. Much of that will include putting out fires as the club try and recover from the embarrassing defeat against Hull FC, whilst he will also begin a thorough review.

That’s something he told fans he would undertake when he spoke last week after his appointment was announced with the 59-year-old outlining what he would do in the early days of his new job.

He explained: “I don’t officially start until next Monday so I’ll be taking a bit of time to strategise and think about what I want to do. Along with Gary’s guidance and the board, I’ll be looking at all things rugby operationally and with the Rhinos.”

Blease also sent a message to the Leeds Rhinos fans as he called on them to back the team, something that hasn’t happened with chants of ‘We want Rohan out’ ringing around the MKM on Saturday as the club lost 18-10.

Still, there remain three key things that Blease must do in this initial week at Leeds Rhinos and we’ve analysed each one below.

QUIZ: Can you name these former Leeds Rhinos players?

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What Ian Blease must do in his first week at Leeds Rhinos

Sack or back Rohan Smith

The glaring problem at Leeds Rhinos is the disconnect between the fans and the coach with Rohan Smith seemingly teetering on the brink after a string of poor results.

On multiple occasions this season, the final whistle has been met with a chorus of boos whilst the chant of ‘We want Rohan out’ has almost become the club’s official anthem from a certain group of supporters. The problem is though that it is an ever-growing group of supporters and it could now reach a tipping point.

Blease must make a decision about Rohan Smith and the sooner the better. Publicly back him in the hope it will silence any doubters and inject a sense of unity between the club and the fans, or bring an end to Smith’s tenure at Headingley.

Should Blease choose the second option then obviously his priority task becomes finding a suitable replacement, something that will be easier said than done with very few coaches out of work. One that is would be Brad Arthur who has reportedly expressed an interest in coaching in Super League.

Leeds Rhinos are at a crossroads and it’s up to Ian Blease to decide which way they turn. The fact Smith remains in a job at present would suggest he will last the week but the international break could bring about the perfect time for the club to make a change if they think that’s the direction they want to take.

Resolve Rhyse Martin’s contract situation

Rhyse MArtin of Leeds Rhinos runs with the ball against Castleford Tiegrs

Credit: Imago Images

Leeds Rhinos have a number of players off contract at the end of the season but the most notable of those is Rhyse Martin with the Papua New Guinean second-rower among Super League’s most consistent performers.

He’s also the last home run signing that was made by the club which is damning considering he was signed in 2019, and that is one of the key reasons why Blease has been brought in – to provide better recruitment options.

For now though, he must look at retainment and get Martin signed up for 2025 and possibly beyond with other Super League sides circling. It’s been reported that Leigh Leopards and Warrington Wolves are interested in the goal-kicking forward so Blease and the Rhinos will have a fight on their hands.

Strengthen the Leeds Rhinos pack

Leeds Rhinos prop Mikolaj Oledzki

Credit: Imago Images

Leeds Rhinos need a prop forward, they’re screaming out for size and power in the pack. Jon Wilkin assessed the game against Hull FC and labelled the Leeds pack as soft, claiming he’d be licking his lips to line up against them.

If someone as astute at studying the game as Wilkin is thinking that then surely opposition coaches across Super League are too and for that reason, the Rhinos need some size and they need it sooner rather than later.

Pre-season signing Mickael Goudemand hasn’t translated well enough and whilst forward Sam Lisone is devastating for periods, he is a luxury player. What Leeds need is grit and more bodies with a severe lack of workhorses in their forward pack, specifically in the props.

Only Mikolaj Oledzki passed 100 metres from those players in the Leeds Rhinos pack on Saturday with Goudemand (43), Sangare (71), Holroyd (19) and Lisone (31) all failing to make huge contributions on their combined 25 carries.

By contrast, premier props such as Tom Amone carried 16 times alone this weekend for a total of 114 metres, Herman Ese’ese 17 times for 139 and Luke Thompson 10 for 121. They won’t find someone of that calibre in the middle of the season but it has to be a priority for 2025 whilst a loan deal for a big prop has to be a consideration.

*Stats sourced from the Super League Match Centre*

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