|Billy Smith A Saint from head to toe
When talking about St George legend Billy Smith, I immediately recall him as one of the best halfbacks the game has ever seen. But I also remember him as one of the games more enigmatic characters and a personality who was often described as, footballer and larrikin.
A St George junior, Billy Smith played with the Mortdale Mighty Midgets and later with the famous Renown club. During these years Smithy was a prolific try scorer, often crossing 40 or 50 times in a season. The Dragons tried to grade the youngster into the big time in 1959 but were over-ruled by Billy's Scottish father. He was finally graded in 1961, mainly playing in the thirds and seconds. In 1963, he was finally elevated to first grade and made an immediate impact as a tireless and tough competitor who constantly talked to team mates and often sledged the opposition.
A player who consistently played above his weight, Smithy was fast, unpredictable and tough as nails. Billy Smith was an inspiration to his team mates and supporters alike and his record speaks for itself.
His partnership with Graeme Langlands was one of the most memorable in history with the two champions seeming to have an intuitive and telepathic knowledge of each other's movements.
I could toss the ball over my head and Chang would be there to catch it, Smith said in later years.
Legendary too was Smiths ability to challenge bigger men than himself. His feud with giant Souths prop John ONeill was a prime example. But this tendency to take on all comers exacted a dreadful injury toll. Nevertheless, he loved rugby league more than life itself and barring the insurmountable, would play week after week regardless of the injuries he was carrying.
In 1972, a true clubman, Smithy represented St George in both the third and reserve grade grand finals. Making his way back from injury, Smith was inspirational in the third grade grand final against Souths won 19-7 by Saints. He then backed up for the reserve grade decider to try and rescue the match. But it was too late with Saints going down to Canterbury. Smith later played in the 1976 reserve grade grand final winning side.
Theres no doubt that on the field, Billy Smith was a champion. A compact centre and halfback, he was one of the games masters, a copybook defender and incisive attacker.
But there was another story being told off the field. Notorious for his reckless behaviour, Smithy was a party animal who mixed alcoholic mayhem with his football. Billy Smiths high spirits often got him into trouble and sometimes saw blood on the floor. His love of a good time alienated many and culminated in his 'resignation' and then banning from the club in 1977.
One story is that Billy was in attendance when winemakers Penfolds became sponsor in 1977 and a day trip to Penfolds vineyard was organised. The players got on the grape and were having a good time. Following a dare, Smithy had a go at driving the team bus and decided to hide it behind a shed. Then fully clothed, he jumped into the dam and exclaimed he sunk the bus; and everyone believed it. Eventually the bus was found high and dry but club secretary John Fleming was not amused. The officials drove home in the bus, leaving the players behind; who then proceeded to party on, reaping havoc and leaving an embarrassing mess in their wake.
The following week, Billy Smith was shown the door and barred from the club for eight years for his role in the incident.
In all, Billy Smith played 229 first grade games scoring 30 tries, 24 goals and 23 field goals (161 points). He represented NSW 15 times in 1964, 65, 67, 68, 69, 71 & 1973. He played 18 Tests for Australia in 1964-68 & 1970. He played in six grand finals 1963-66, 1971 & 1975, winning on four occasions. He twice won the Harry Sunderland Medal for best Australian player in an Ashes series. Following a smashed jaw in 1969, he came back to captain Australia in the 1970 World Cup.In 1977 aged 35, Billy Smith finally finished his career in reserve grade but not before passing Norm Provan's club record of 296 all-grade matches. Now a St George Legend, Billy Smith will be remembered as a champion footballer who never took a backward step when playing the game he loved.
- Steven Williams.
Posted at 'The Forums Sevens' Competition,
Leagueunlimited.com (The Front Row Forums), 28 March 2004
1.) SOTV Dragons history website
2.) Never Before, Never Again written by Larry Writer
3.) Billy Smith - A Saint from head to toe written by Helen Elward and Graeme Changa Langlands (to be launched at St George Leagues Club, 9 April 2004).
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