FORMER England winger Lee Smith has credited Wakefield Trinity Wildcats for making sure he matured enough to enable him to make the most of his second ‘life’ in rugby union.
He could debut for Newcastle Falcons against Northampton Saints on Sunday after making the switch from Wakefield last week – just over four years after an ill-fated five-month dalliance with Wasps.
Smith concedes he was not grown up enough to make that initial move after winning three Grand Finals and a World Club Challenge with Leeds Rhinos.
He only made one first-team appearance for Wasps, ironically at Newcastle in the LV Cup, before returning to the comforts of his home-town club.
Smith spent another two years at Leeds before moving to Wakefield in 2012 and says that was a seminal period.
Now 27, he said: “I’ve grown up. When I left Leeds I had to come out of that bubble as they really looked after you there.
“Going to Wakefield was totally different. You don’t get half as much given to you on a plate and, in that sense, it was great as it made me a lot more mature.
“I enjoyed it at Wakey and it has made me better prepared to make this (union) work now.
“I’d always had ambitions to play union. As a kid, I played just as much of that as I did league.
“What happened with Wasps disappointed me and I always wanted to go back. Luckily enough, Newcastle have given me this opportunity.
“With everything that’s happening at Wakefield, and the return of promotion and relegation, it’s not financially secure not knowing your future.”
He will discover today if he has been selected for the Saints game and has been pleased with the progress he has made so far.
“When I first trained last Monday I probably thought I was a good few weeks away but, by last Thursday, I didn’t think I was too far off from fitting into this team and knowing the plays,” reflected Smith.
“I’ve carried on this week, bedded in further and got used to all the terminology changes and their game plan, so we’ll see.”
Smith scored tries in successive Grand Final victories for Leeds in 2007, 2008 and 2009, famously having played three different positions, too – wing, full-back and then centre. However, he is keen to get rid of that utility tag – he also played stand-off for Wakefield.
“Personally, I think I’ve had a few positions now – wing, full-back and centre – and it’s about time I nailed one down.
“It’s full-back where I want to play here and (coach) Dean (Richards) told me that, too.
“I’m putting all my effort into really trying to study how full-back players play. It’s miles different to league, but there’s some similarities and I’m enjoying learning it.”
Of course, the rugby news agenda has been dominated this week by a more high-profile cross-code switch – England star Sam Burgess’s move to Bath at the end of the season. Smith, who is friends with the former Bradford Bulls forward, said: “The only thing I’d say about Sam is he’s an absolutely fantastic athlete and in any code he’s a danger .
“He is just very, very difficult to stop while he’s a very, very good tackler. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll make it and could do so for the World Cup with England, too. I disagree with anyone who says otherwise.
“If he gets the right coaching, there’s no reason why not.
“There’s probably only two people in the world who could pick and choose what they want to do like this – Sonny Bill Williams and Sam. Sonny Bill’s done it in both codes and gone back again and I can’t see why Sam can’t either.”