Rohan Smith: The jockey aiming to become a horse


Rohan Smith is taking charge at Odsal (Picture: Betty Longbottom)

ARRIGO Sacchi had a witty retort for whenever anyone questioned what business a man with virtually no experience of playing football at professional, or even amateur, level had managing one of the top teams in Italy, AC Milan.
He would simply reply: “I never realized that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first.”
Sacchi is now widely regarded as one of the greatest managers to have taken charge of I Rossoneri, guiding them to the Serie A title in 1988, back-to-back European Cup triumphs and two Intercontinental Cup victories.
Nevertheless, he remains in a minority of coaches who have been given an opportunity at the highest level in spite of an undistinguished playing career and it is a similar story in most sports.
Occassionally though, some are handed the reins and that will be the case when Rohan Smith finally takes charge of Bradford Bulls, having been appointed successor to James Lowes on a three-year contract.
The 35-year-old, who is expected to be at Odsal for the Bulls’ Kingston Press Championship home game with Swinton Lions, knew by the time he was 16 that he wanted to be a head coach one day.
Two rounds of reconstructive surgery on his shoulder brought his playing career to an end and Smith got his start scouting for the NRL’s New Zealand Warriors under Daniel Anderson at 21, having previously coached the University of Wollongong’s junior teams.
Since then, Smith’s career has taken in spells with Newcastle Knights, Penrith Panthers, Sydney Roosters, London Broncos, a spell as Tonga head coach and, most recently, assistant with Gold Coast Titans.
So at an age when many players are starting to turn their attention towards coaching once they hang up their boots, Smith has already got 14 years of experience under his belt, covering everything from talent identification to attacking, defending and kicking.
“I feel like I’ve had a long apprenticeship after various roles within the NRL,” Smith told the Bradford Telegraph & Argus’ Ross Heppenstall recently.
“I remember when I was 16 that I wanted to be a head coach one day. I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but I knew it was where I wanted to end up.”
Much has been made of the fact Smith is following in the footsteps of father Brian and uncle Tony – the former being head coach at Bradford during that first season of Super League, and the latter having achieved much success with Leeds Rhinos and now Warrington Wolves.
Cynics might say he was only able to get his foot in the door at such a young age in the first place due his family connections, but Smith has very much done things his own way and there should be no doubting he is his own man.
He cites Anderson, Trent Robinson and Matty Elliott as three of the biggest influences in his career and considers himself a student of many sports, in particular looking to the USA to glean knowledge from the techniques used in baseball, basketball and American football.
Smith recommends the works of Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson and renowned NFL coach Bill Walsh as required reading, along with legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.
His Twitter account gives an insight into how Smith operates as well and among the various retweets of motivational quotes are his latest book recommendations, with one recent one being by Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore about what was behind their World Series triumph last year.
“I just want to broaden my horizons as much as I can,” explained Smith. “I’ve definitely got some philosophies about how rugby league can be played.
“To me, it’s probably about individual attention and making sure that the players feel like you are taking care of them as a person first.
“Then you can work on their game and their understanding of where they fit within the team structure
“But I also realise that I’m working to help them achieve their goals. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve taken out of a lot of the books I’ve read.”
The world of second-tier rugby league in England is far removed from the glitz and glamour of top American sports though, not to mention the relatively rarefied atmosphere of the NRL.
Smith is clearly not your stereotypical rugby league coach though and the evidence suggests there should be no fears about his ability to adapt to his new role and surroundings.
His first task will be to lead the Bulls back into Super League after a two-year absence and even now they are well-placed to secure a spot in the Qualifiers.
If he can do that, then Smith will be well on his way to establishing himself as rugby league’s very own jockey who became a horse.


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