Billy Smith (rugby league)

Last updated

Billy Smith
Personal information
Full nameWilliam John Smith
Born (1942-07-12) 12 July 1942 (age 76)
Fremantle, Western Australia
Playing information
Position Halfback
Club
YearsTeamPldTGFGP
1961–77 St. George Dragons 234 30344161
Representative
YearsTeamPldTGFGP
1964–73 New South Wales 17 1105
1964–70 Australia 263009

William John Smith (born 12 July 1942 in Fremantle, Western Australia) is an Australian former rugby league footballer. He was the leading halfback in Australian rugby league during the late 1960s, and a keystone of the latter part of the St. George Dragons' eleven consecutive premiership victories between 1956 and 1966. He represented Australia in eighteen Tests and eight World Cup games between 1964 and 1970. He captained Australia in a World Cup game against Great Britain in 1970.

Rugby league team sport, code of rugby football

Rugby league football is a full-contact sport played by two teams of thirteen players on a rectangular field. One of the two codes of rugby, it originated in Northern England in 1895 as a split from the Rugby Football Union over the issue of payments to players. Its rules progressively changed with the aim of producing a faster, more entertaining game for spectators.

The St George Dragons are an Australian rugby league football club from the St George district in Sydney, New South Wales playing in the top level New South Wales competition and Australian Rugby League competitions from the 1921 until the 1997 ARL season, as well as the unified 1998 National Rugby League season. In 1999, they formed a joint venture with the Illawarra Steelers, creating the St George Illawarra Dragons team which continues to compete in the NRL today. As a stand-alone club, they field teams in the NSWRL underage men's and women's competitions, Harold Matthews Cup, S.G. Ball, and Tarsha Gale Cup.

The Australian national rugby league team have represented Australia in senior men's rugby league football competition since the establishment of the 'Northern Union game' in Australia in 1908. Administered by the Australian Rugby League, the Kangaroos are ranked first in the RLIF World Rankings. The team is the most successful in Rugby League World Cup history, having contested all 15 and winning 11 of them, failing to reach the final only once, in the inaugural tournament in 1954. Only four nations have beaten Australia in test matches, and Australia have an overall win percentage of 67%.

Contents

Early life

Born in Fremantle, Western Australia, the son of a Scottish fisherman, Smith grew up in Mortdale, New South Wales in the St George area. After playing rugby union and Australian rules football, he took to junior league early playing with Mortdale and the Renown club. He starred in his junior football, was spotted by St. George talent scouts and was first graded at age 16. He played in third grade in 1959 for the Dragons before his father objected and he returned to Renown for two more seasons in the juniors.

Mortdale, New South Wales Suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Mortdale is a suburb located in southern Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, Australia. Mortdale is located 20 kilometres south of the Sydney central business district and is part of the St George area. Mortdale lies across the local government area of Georges River Council. Mortdale extends south to Lime Kiln Bay, on the Georges River. Mortdale Heights is a locality in the western corner of the suburb.

St George (Sydney) Region in New South Wales, Australia

St George Area refers to an old County Council formed by the local councils of several southern suburbs in Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, Australia. The area includes all the suburbs in the local government area of Georges River Council and the part of Bayside Council which was Rockdale City prior to 2016. The eastern boundary of the district is Lady Robinson Beach on Botany Bay.

Rugby union Team sport, code of rugby football

Rugby union, commonly known in most of the world simply as rugby, is a contact team sport which originated in England in the first half of the 19th century. One of the two codes of rugby football, it is based on running with the ball in hand. In its most common form, a game is between two teams of 15 players using an oval-shaped ball on a rectangular field with H-shaped goalposts at each end.

Club career

He returned to St. George in 1960 as a centre. After a few games in 1961 and 1962 he established a permanent place in 1963 when Reg Gasnier's first and second-choice partners (Johnny Riley and Dave Brown) were both forced out by injury. Billy Smith went on to play fifteen seasons at St. George Dragons between 1963-1977. [1]

Reginald William "Reg" Gasnier AM was an Australian rugby league footballer and coach. He played centre for the St. George Dragons from 1959 to 1967 and represented Australia in a then record 36 Tests and three World Cup games. He was the captain of the national side on eight occasions between 1962–67.

In 1964, Smith was shifted to halfback and adapted quickly under Norm Provan's coaching and on-field practice. His was a pivotal member of the Dragons' Premiership winning sides of 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1966. In 1966 he was named New South Wales Player of the year and won The Sun-Herald's Best and Fairest Player award.

Norman "Sticks" Douglas Somerville Provan is an Australian former professional rugby league footballer and coach. A giant of a man, he was a second-row forward with the St. George Dragons during their 11-year consecutive premiership-winning run from 1956 to 1966. Named amongst the nation's finest footballers of the 20th century, he was a representative in the Australian national team from 1954 to 1960 earning 14 Test and 2 World Cup cups. In 2018, he was inducted as the 12th Immortal of Australian Rugby League.

<i>The Sun-Herald</i>

The Sun-Herald is an Australian newspaper published in tabloid or compact format on Sundays in Sydney by Fairfax Media. It is the Sunday counterpart of The Sydney Morning Herald. In the 6 months to September 2005, The Sun-Herald had a circulation of 515,000. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, its circulation had dropped to 443,257 as of December 2009 and to 313,477 as of December 2010, from which its management inferred a readership of 868,000. Readership continued to tumble to 264,434 by the end of 2013, and has half the circulation of rival The Sunday Telegraph.

By 1967 the St George side had lost many of its stars and all of its pack of fearsome forwards. Smith's abilities and his uncanny partnership with Graeme Langlands are credited with enabling the club to remain competitive through to the mid seventies.

Graeme Langlands Australian rugby league player

Graeme Frank Langlands, MBE,, also known by the nickname of "Changa", was an Australian professional rugby league footballer who played in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. and coached in the 1970s. He retired as the most-capped player for the Australian national team with 45 international appearances from 1963 to 1975, and captained his country in 15 Test matches and World Cup games. Langlands was the fullback and goal-kicker for the St. George Dragons in the latter half of their 11-year consecutive premiership-winning run from 1956 to 1966.

Due to injury he missed the first half of the 1971 season. His three vital field goals in the final won St. George a place in the 1971 Grand Final where they were beaten by South Sydney.

South Sydney Rabbitohs rugby league football club

The South Sydney Rabbitohs are a professional Australian rugby league team based in Redfern, a suburb of inner-southern Sydney, New South Wales. They participate in the National Rugby League (NRL) premiership and are one of nine existing teams from the state capital. They are often called Souths and The Bunnies.

Halfway through 1972 he was injured and played in third grade when he returned. By 1976, Smith was suffering from severe leg problems and his previously brilliant kicking game was gone. He captained the reserve grade side to a Grand Final win in 1976 and spent most of 1977 in reserve grade. At the end of the 1977 season he was cut from the club after a prank on a sponsor's bus trip to the Penfolds Vineyard went wrong. Smith was 35 and had played a record 296 games in all grades with St. George - the club's standing record.

Billy Smith was awarded Life Membership of the St. George Dragons in 1973.

Playing style

Small in size compared to most rugby league players, Smith was renowned for his toughness. He was capable of challenging any opponent head-on on the field, and his organising and kicking skills were a vital part of St. George's success during his career.

Legendary rugby league hardman John Sattler is quoted as follows in the Writer reference:
"People talk about the enforcers in the game, but Langlands and his mate Smithy were the toughest of the tough because they could play with injury - arm hanging off, crook leg, strap 'em up and send 'em out - and they could perform. And they had such club spirit. They were knockabouts and larrikins off the paddock, but they respected their club and teammates and treated Frank Facer like their own father." [2]

Representative career

He made his Test debut against France in 1964 in his first season as a halfback. In 1966 Smith won the Harry Sunderland Medal when Australia retained the Ashes at home for the first time. His tackling of the heavyweight English forwards was the decisive factor in this win, and was praised heartily by the press. For the next five years Smith missed (due to injury) only one Test match in which Australia was involved.

In 1967 Smith won the Harry Sunderland Medal again (this time for his performance against New Zealand and was an automatic selection for the Kangaroo tour later that year. He played in five Tests and ten minor tour matches but misbehaviour on that tour threatened his international career. He was however chosen in Australia's World cup squad in 1968, toured New Zealand in 1969 and was picked against Great Britain in 1970 for all three Tests of the domestic Ashes series.

In spite of having been fined half his 1967-68 tour bonus, when it came time to pick the 1970 World Cup squad, Smith was selected as vice-captain and, after injury to captain Ron Coote, Smith enjoyed the honour of leading his country in a tournament match against Great Britain at Headingley in October 1970 in which he was also named as man-of-the-match.

He featured in Australia's 1970 World Cup Final (the "Battle of Leeds") won 12-7 and was sent-off in the 78th minute of the match. Further injuries prevented Smith retaining his Test spot despite his 110% effort every time he took the field.

All up Smith appeared in seven Tests against Britain, five against New Zealand and six against France. He appeared in eight matches across the 1968 and 1970 World Cups. He is listed on the Australian Players Register as Kangaroo No. 392. [3]

Coaching and post-playing accolades

Smith coached the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks reserve grade side to two grand finals in 1979 and 1980. He left controversially when Norm Provan, his former captain, mentor and long-time friend, left that club after the first grade team, which Provan had coached since 1978, failed to reach the finals in 1980.

Smith was named in Australia's best team from 1970 to 1985 by Rugby League Week, and gained two votes in 1995 as best halfback of the limited-tackle era.

In February 2008, Smith was named in the list of Australia's 100 Greatest Players (1908–2007) which was commissioned by the NRL and ARL to celebrate the code's centenary year in Australia. [4] [5]

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References

Notes

  1. http://www.rugbyleagueproject.org
  2. Writer, p. 375
  3. ARL ANNUAL REPORT 2005, page 54
  4. Peter Cassidy (23 February 2008). "Controversy reigns as NRL releases top 100 players". Macquarie National News. Archived from the original on 25 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-23.
  5. "Centenary of Rugby League - The Players". NRL & ARL . 23 February 2008. Archived from the original on 26 February 2008. Retrieved 23 February 2008.
Preceded by
Ron Coote
Australian national rugby league captain
1970
Succeeded by
Bob McCarthy