Hull KR’s Ryan Brierley says Tony Smith saved his rugby league career after tough spells at Huddersfield Giants and Toronto Wolfpack.
Having thrived at Leigh in his early days, Brierley endured a mixed time at Huddersfield before dropping back down to the Championship in 2017 to sign for Toronto.
That move saw him link up with former coach and long-time friend Paul Rowley, quickly becoming one of the Wolfpack’s key players in their bid for top-flight status.
However, failure to reach Super League at the end of the 2018 season saw Rowley replaced by Brian McDermott, a move that would have a detrimental effect on Brierley’s career.
Speaking about his time at Toronto, Brierley told Serious About Rugby League: “I was at a stage at Huddersfield where I just wasn’t happy anymore.
“I was shifted here there and everywhere with new coaches coming in, playing half-back, playing full-back and all that stuff.
“It was just good for me to link up with Paul Rowley again and the rest of the team (at Toronto) who I class as actually my close friends.
“That put a smile on my face again and I actually started playing some decent rugby. I then got in the Scotland team on the back of it.
“But all good things come to an end and Brian (McDermott) came in.
“He wanted to go a different direction which is fine, that’s sport, it’s something I have got to deal with, but I’m in a much better head space now being away from the club.”
McDermott’s decision not play Brierley saw him force through a loan move to former club Leigh for the final part of the 2019 campaign, with the Scotland international scoring 11 tries in 13 games.
Despite his impressive form, he ended the season without a club and with doubts about his future in the sport, Tony Smith handed the 28-year-old a career lifeline.
With less than two months to go before the start of the 2020 season, Brierley agreed a one-year deal with Hull KR and has since blossomed under Smith’s tuition.
“At the time I needed an arm around my shoulder and the club have certainly given me that,” explained Brierley.
“Tony and Sue Thompson (Players Welfare Manager) treat us as people first before they treat us as players, and that’s been massive for me.
“It may sound too simple but Tony actually makes you believe that you’re a good player and I’ve never really had that in 10 years.
“I needed that confidence boost, he realises that everybody is different, he treats people different because some need an arm over the shoulder and some need a kick up the backside.
“He knows what gets the best out of me and he’s picked me every week.
“I can see why he’s so highly regarded in the game. He’s one of the best, if not the best coach I’ve ever worked for.”
Brierley’s career troubles have also inspired him to start a new business venture alongside former Leigh and Toronto teammate Cory Paterson.
The Sports Management Company will focus on player welfare in a number of different sports, aiming to ensure athletes are in the right mental state to perform at their best.
“With the problems I’ve had in my career I wanted to help other players with their issues,” said Brierley.
“If they get in some of them situations, I want to be the person to help them and guide them through their issues.
“I got a master’s degree at Leeds Beckett University and it’s something I wanted to do after my career, but we got offered Man City and England star Jess Park.
“It was too good an opportunity to turn down, Jess is a star and we can’t wait to see her career progress.
“We’ve got more signings announced soon and I can’t wait to get stuck in, mainly when I finish playing.
“I’m learning every day but it gets me up in the morning with excitement. I get the same excitement looking after players as I do playing.
“It’s humbling that someone trusts you to look after their career. I had problems a few years ago and had to seek professional help.
“It’s something you can’t see but it’s there. You can’t play to the best of your ability if your head is not in the right place.”