It will be back to the future for the Atlanta Rhinos this week as they announce that Jordon Smedley will return to the club as Head Coach for the 2017 USARL season. The former Yass Magpie, who lead the Rhinos in their inaugural campaign in 2014, will also contribute on the field in a playing capacity.
Smedley admits a return to Atlanta has never been far from his thoughts and was always a matter of not if but when, with talks ongoing over the last two years.
“It has all centred around timing to be honest, those closest to me know how passionate I am about the Rhinos and helping to develop the game in the USA. “Providing the club and the playing group wanted me and we were on the same page, I was always coming back at some stage”. “Fortunately, that will be in 2017. I am genuinely excited to be coming back”
Smedley had initially agreed to return in 2015, however several factors back home in Australia put a line through it at the last minute. “That was disappointing and really pulled at me, Smedley said. “I am big on commitment and someone of my word, so when I had to call the club last minute and inform BT (Rhinos CEO Bob Taylor) and the playing group I wouldn’t be coming, it was very difficult. “We had built a great culture in a short period and were building something special on the field, I feel I let them down. However, the history books will show the Rhinos went on a remarkable run to be crowned USARL Southern Conference champions on their way to the National Championship, falling to North champs the Boston 13’s in the big dance.
Smedley hints that appeasing that 2015 defeat and bringing the National Championship back to Atlanta for the first time will be a huge motivating factor for the 2017 squad.
“Of course, winning the competition is the ultimate goal, and we will discuss this as a group. However, it is the same with every club in the USARL. Everyone wants to win and It would be a motivating factor for every team. We are in control of the results we achieve this season and are under no false illusions, we will have to work extremely hard as a group and focus on our preparation and what is required to perform consistently. It is a short competition so it doesn’t allow you long to get it right. Every team in the South is strong and can beat each other on any given day. I believe we are fortunate in the fact that we have had solid player retention over the past couple of years which helps with stability. The talent pool here in Atlanta is also outstanding, some of the athletes just possess that raw ability. It is then up to our coaching staff to turn them into a rugby league player.
Former USA international Salesi Tongamoa will assist Smedley with coaching duties when the club commences their pre-season with a two-day minicamp on April 29.
Salesi has done a tremendous job with the guys over the past couple of seasons” not to mention he has been a good player over a long period of time, Smedley said. I am excited to work with Sal this season. As always, our camp is open invitation, so we are looking forward to seeing some solid numbers, old faces and hopefully some new ones”
The Rhinos will kick off their regular season with a home opener against 2016 Southern Champions, Jacksonville Axemen on June 3.