Rhinos finished eighth in Betfred Super League, missing out on the play-offs by two places and four points.
Three first-choice players - Kruise Leeming, Blake Austin and the injured Zane Tetevano - were released during the campaign and Nene Macdonald’s future at the club is in doubt after he failed to return from paternity leave in Australia.
But Leeds finished on a high with a 46-0 derby win over Castleford Tigers last Friday, following successive defeats by Wigan Warriors and Catalans Dragons in which they conceded 111 points without reply.
And reflecting on the season finale, Smith said: “The best part of that is it shows everyone who was at the game or follows the scores that there’s a lot of ability and spirit to get back up off the floor.”
The coach insisted: “That’s what life’s about, you get knocked down and you get back up and get on with it and show some courage. We’ll be better for it, it was a good performance and one for a lot of the young kids in the team to remember.”
Despite Rhinos’ poor season, Smith believes there are positive signs for the future. He said: “There’s a lot of spirit and ability and belief in this group, the one that played [last week] and also those who were injured and unavailable.
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“We’ve learned a lot. We have let ourselves down at various times this year, some other people have let us down as well and left us short on troops at times, but we have kept fronting up.
“They have kept connected, they have worked together and they are good mates. They haven’t turned [against each other] and it has still been enjoyable for me - hard, but enjoyable. That’s what life and sport is supposed to be.
“There’s a lot of good people in that group and a lot of good things happened in this club behind the scenes throughout the year. There’s foundations being laid.”
A crowd of more than 15,000 watched last week’s game and Smith added: “I respect the fans for keeping turning up and keeping singing and I respect they are disappointed as well on the overall season, as we all are.
“We all live and breathe it, every minute, every day. All we want to do is do well for the club and we will be fighting back next pre-season, that’s for sure.”
Rhinos will have a new-look squad, with Sam Walters, Liam Tindall and Aidan Sezer having moved on after last week’s game and more additions expected, alongside already-confirmed recruits Lachie Miller, Matt Frawley and Mickael Goudemand.
“Next year is a new year,” Smith stated. “We will be a different team next year, there will be some key positions that are different.
“That will take a bit of time to click, but the core of the group is there and the future is in the academy group and kids coming out of the scholarship this year.
“There’s a bunch of dudes who are going to play a lot of Super League there. We have got to get the top part right next year and get ourselves into a good position to strike.”