The setting is Manly Oval, August 2000.
George Smith and I make our way back to the 50 metre line for what feels like Manly’s 300th restart of the arvo. We’ve both come off the bench and stepped into a smashfest at the hands of a stacked Eastern Suburbs side. It’s carnage.
Our fly-half is about to get play moving again when Easts backrower Michael Brial spots George and goes bezerk. He shoots off 15 expletives per second at the 20-year-old which is impressive given the spray lasts 5 minutes. Brial tells the up-and-coming George he wants a piece of him and rolls that into some issues he’s got with the youngster’s contract at the Brumbies. Terrified I’m gonna get snotted for simply standing next to my old Colts team-mate, I wish George well with Michael and walk to the opposite side of the field.
I shouldn’t have worried.
Our half-wit fly-half sends the restart directly into the arms of Brial, because why wouldn’t you kick it to the hardest running, angriest bloke on the park? Anyway, the Waratahs and Wallabies backrower looks up, spots Smith and charges directly at him. George casually jogs towards Brial, he doesn’t tackle him, he doesn’t make any form of contact with the hard-man at all, he just takes the ball out of his hands and strolls 30metres the other direction to cross the tryline untouched.
Nobody on the field says a word. Zero, zip, Nada. No-one can quite believe what they’ve seen. How. Did. He. Do. That? The silence is broken by our flyhalf who laughs at Brial, then hides behind Feki, our 6-foot-3, 150kg prop from Tonga.
I know this is one of a million on-field stories from around the planet that could be told of George. He did things others couldn’t comprehend and it all began on Sydney’s Nothern Beaches.
THE EARLY YEARS
When I asked some of George’s old mates for their favourite junior and colts yarns about the great man, they queued up for a crack. Not only is Smith unique on the park, but the sense of pride people have of him and for what he’s achieved is remarkable. He’s their boy, the one they played with or were unlucky enough to go against.
Anyhow, ‘Harves’ was first.
‘You got to tell them about the NZ tour when we were 12. Georgey ate five ice creams before we jumped on the coach for the ride into Wellington. The winding road upset him and he started throwing up violently at the back of the bus. The smell had an horrific knock on effect and everyone ended up losing their ice creams over the floor and windows. George and his five Cornettos, I’ll never forget.’
The dreadlock king was partial to Cornettos, Paddlepops, anything he could get his hands on back then, so much so it convinced his junior coach ‘Macca’ to only ever play him as a hooker.
As the years went on, George filled out into the indestructible freak he is, but still, ‘Macca’ refused to shift him to the side of the scrum.
‘I’m not moving you George, forget it George, you’re not going anywhere. You’re a hooker George, you’ll never be an open side, you’re no number 7, you’re not a 7’s backside George. Pack it down, hit the scrum machine George…’ his coach would rant week after week.
Macca would go on to post a Grand Final Win/loss ratio of none from Seven, with his hooker playing 111 Tests for Australia thanks largely to the vision of another steadfast coach.
THE COLTS/GRADE/SUPER TRANSTION
Eddie Jones and his Brumbies team got their first real look at the future John Eales medalist out at Penrith in 1999. Nepean Rugby Park was a dicey place to visit back then for two reasons.
Firstly, playing with a belly full of Emu Burger was a nightmare. We’re talking about the signature dish of the Shute Shield here. It was a burger that’d melt on your tongue but was so high in sodium, fats and carbs, it’d end guys before they even made the warm up. I once saw our blindside flanker out of breath putting his socks on because he got hooked and ate three…so there was that to counter.
Secondly, the Emus Pack. Amongst others, they had Waratah lock Pete Besseling and the scariest Number 8 in the country, Henry Schaaf.
Henry wouldn’t polish off Emu Burgers pre-game, instead, he’d swallow up cigarettes by the carton. Then, he’d waste people. Run after run, tackle after tackle, Schaaf would crease guys. This is what made Smith’s first grade debut so impressive.
Up against it following a full game of colts, the 19-year-old was given a shot at 1s by coach Greg Marr. Not only did the kid from Dee Why handle himself, he owned the game. It was enough to convince Eddie Jones to offer him a contract.
He returned to Colts for our premiership win that same year which is where I’ll let his mate ‘Goldie’ pick up.
‘Colts back then was amazing. We’d play hard and party harder. This one night in the lead up to the GF, we stumbled out of the Jet Club at about 2am on a Friday morning. There, slumped in the gutter outside Kebab World was Tys, a 6-foot-5 135kg lower grader, covered in sliced chicken, hummus and tabouli. Tys was the sort of guy who could dust four Emu burgers and have room for a sausage roll chaser.’
‘Anyhow, George sees he’s in strife and deadlifts Tys into his Ute, then drives him home. They get all the way to the front door when the big fella realises he’s dropped his Kebab back in Dee Why. George being the champion he is, offers to drive Tys to Manly for another mixed doner, before spinning him home and carrying the unit to bed. Just to clarify, George wasn’t drinking and Tys fell asleep with the kebab on his chest before polishing it off the next arvo. I bloody love George, he was always there to help on the park and off it.’
THE RETURN, MANLY OVAL 2004
As expected his appearances at The Village Green became less and less frequent, so this match really stands out.
This one week, WE were the stacked side and in a bizarre twist, Easts were the victims. Nathan Grey was available and so was George. Reluctant to upset the forward pack balance, coach Billy Melrose started Greysie at flyhalf and Smiff at inside centre. It was as if the local junior had played his entire life with 12 on his back, that’s how dominant he was.
The beauty of this match in particular was that off the back of their performances, our winger scored a club record four tries that arvo. His name? Marlins legend Luke Donnan. The same incompetent flyhalf who gave Michael Brial a chance to steam roll George into the cricket pitch at the same venue back in 2000.
Gonna miss you Smiff, thanks for all you’ve done for so many of us.
Sean Maloney counts himself lucky to have played colts and grade rugby with George Smith. He will commentate Smith’s farewell Super Rugby game on Aussie soil this Friday night. All the action from 7:30pm on Fox Sports 501.