Smith justifies big changes at Hull KR

Tony Smith believes Hull Kingston Rovers had no alternative but to undergo a drastic overhaul of their squad heading into the 2020 season.

The Robins have overseen one of the biggest recruitment drives in Super League history, signing 18 players ahead of Smith’s first full season in charge.

Smith is an advocate of making small changes year on year, but now he has gone against his philosophy in the hope of steering the Robins clear of another relegation battle next year.

In doing so, he has put emphasis on youth. The average age of his recruits is just 23 years and 8 months. In comparison, those that have left were of an average age of 30.

While Smith admits there is an element of risk, he believes it was necessary for both the short and long-term future of the club.

“The reality for us is that we have to get out of a cycle where we’re fighting against relegation every season,” he said.

“Whether you agree with relegation or not, if you’re stuck in that battle at the end of the season it’s not very pleasant, but it also affects your recruitment for the year after, because you miss out on your top targets.

“We have to get away from that position if we’re going to move forward.

“We’ve had a bit of a clean out. Nothing against the guys that have left, they were good guys, but it was time to go in a different direction.

“If you keep trying the same things you’ll keep getting the same results.”
Smith admitted that, as a result of the Robins’ final-day survival, some of his recruitment was done out of necessity rather than choice.”

However, the strategy of recruiting youth and from the lower leagues was intended as part of a club-wide change in tactical recruitment moving forward.

“That’s absolutely the case.

“A lot of the things the club wanted to do started before I arrived. It wanted to have its own Academy, with players wearing its own badge. A lot of that happened before me, as did some of the recruitment.

“Since I’ve come in I’ve tried to help deliver that and implement some of my own things on where the club wants to head.

“There’s no guarantee on the way we are going, but rather than have an older team, we want young, fresh and ambitious faces and we want competition for places.

“With signing younger players you can have a bigger squad and have more people pushing for positions. If you’re not performing you’re not playing, but with reserve grade and our dual-registration partnership with Dewsbury, we have assurances that everyone can play and improve. We can offer these guys the chance to work on their game at Super League level, but if they’re not quite doing it, they can go do it in another arena.”

This story was first published in League Express, Mon 25th Nov 2019