Former air conditioning contractor Ryan Smith has been a cool breeze of work-rate and fix-it efficiency since grabbing his chance to be a professional footballer.
Smith, 25, was still working on the tools from 6.30am and rushing to Reds training in 2020 when he got his first taste with two games off the bench for Queensland.
Fast forward to the business end of Super Rugby Pacific and the workhorse lock is a fixture in the Reds line-up.
He will line-up for his 11th game of 2022 against the Highlanders at Suncorp Stadium tomorrow night.
The return of Wallaby Lukhan Salakaia-Loto means Smith is reunited in the pairing which started the victorious Super Rugby AU final last year.
For Smith, the equation to lay the platform for a sought-after win over a Kiwi side remains the same.
Nail the set piece basics and the Reds can flow from there.
Smith has been the Reds’ No.1 lineout target this season. He’s grabbed 31 takes and stolen two opposition throws for good measure.
The tale of the tape reflects Smith’s consistency. He has made 87 tackles and missed just seven for an enviable completion rate of 91 per cent.
He may not pass the ball that much but Super Rugby’s Stats Perform tag him at 100 per cent accuracy for his 28 passes.
Coach Brad Thorn has saluted Smith’s hard work and hungry, physical approach from the start.
“Ryan is just a great story coming through as that amateur/semi-professional working his trade through COVID (in 2020). Nothing has been given to him,” Thorn said.
Smith regards it as a badge of honour that he has climbed every rung from Colts III at the Brothers club to where he is today.
The 1.99m Smith treats getting the lineout right as a personal mission and he sees the flaws in being too complicated as happened at times earlier in the season.
“The specific moves don’t have to be too tricky. If you throw it to the top of the leap, where the jumper is, opposition teams have a slim chance to pick it off. That’s taking it back to basics...get our jump, our throw and our lift right,” Smith said.
Players move around so often these days that a strata of players who are loyal servants to their state for 70 or 80 games, without ever playing Test rugby, seems to have diminished across the country.
Smith is off-contract at the end of this season but is not looking beyond the Queensland border.
“Queensland is my home and I’d love to stay here as long as I can,” Smith said.
“This is always where I’ve played my rugby. I’m just happy to be playing rugby professionally and keeping off the worksite.
“I’m happy to put myself out there against the best in Australia and New Zealand. If any selection comes from that, great. Otherwise, I’m happy just to be showing up and putting my best foot forward for Queensland.”
The challenge of stepping up to the best Kiwi sides and earning an elusive win over the Highlanders is highly motivating.
“Definitely. Every week you play against Wallabies and All Blacks. Upon doing reviews of games, you pick up different little skills from different players,” he said.
“Some of the things done off the ball, for example, you pick up on the detail and try to add it to your tool box so to speak.”
When the Reds were looking for willing runners in the final minutes against the Hurricanes in Melbourne recently, Smith was the forward who put up his hand with willing carries.
Parents Peter and Jen were in the stands at AAMI Park on a Reds’ Supporters Tour. Both could be proud of him fighting to the 80th minute even in a loss.
Sunday is Mother’s Day so support will flow the other way.
“Mum has been a perpetual support for my rugby. She’s never missed a club game or a Reds home game and gets to as many away games as possible,” Smith said.
“Mum and dad came down to Melbourne on the charter flight with the Reds’ supporters. She always greets me after the game with a smile, a hug and a ‘good game’ no matter the result.
“We’ll have a quiet lunch at my parents’ place on Mother’s Day, just spending a bit of time together while dad prepares a nice feed.”
Smith hasn’t been called on to fixed the air conditioners of any teammates this year which means he must have done a good job last year of repairing the unit of Athletic Performance Manager Damian Marsh.
Smith has traded the work truck for training runs. So has Cobber, his kelpie-border collie cross with a hunger for chasing his frisbee.
Smith admires Thorn’s view on encouraging and promoting rugby players with a bit of life experience.
“I think it’s great that ‘Thorny’ can pick guys who have been toiling away in club rugby because he spots something in their make-up,” Smith said.
“(Hooker) Matt Faessler, my clubmate at Brothers, is probably the most recent who comes to mind. He’s just a fantastic bloke to have around the team.
“Most of the time, these guys have other jobs. They are forced into having other interests. They all have external qualities because they are not just rugby players.
“He might be on a job-site or whatever as a chippy (carpenter). He understands hierarchies, having a boss and having timelines and so on. It instils a pretty good work ethic and a holistic understanding of how the world works.
“It’s a good feeling to be recognised for that.”