Catalans v Hull Kingston Rovers - Friendship on hold as Tony Smith aims to get better of Steve McNamara

MOST people are aware of Tony Smith and Steve McNamara’s history together, mainly combining for England as coach and assistant but also at Huddersfield Giants as coach and captain.

Tony Smith: Faces old friend. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Tony Smith: Faces old friend. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

However, less well documented is that the long-standing friendship goes back further still.

“We played together at St George in reserve grade many moons ago,” said Smith, the Australian whose Hull KR take on McNamara’s Catalans Dragons in their Super League opener today.

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“We were lucky enough to work together there and with England and Huddersfield also so we’ve had a few stints together.

“There’s a mutual respect there that’s always been there. Steve was a good pro’ back then as a player and he’s gone on to be a great pro’ as a coach.

“He probably wasn’t the most gifted of players but certainly got everything out of what he had and a bit more because he applied himself so well.

“He was probably a bit clumsy here and there in some aspects if you ask me the real truth – I remember him slipping over quite a few times for goal kicks!

“But the thing is he’d slot them over at the same time and get the job done. He wasn’t always the silkiest and most smooth and skilful although he was pretty good. We’re good mates.”

WORKING TOGETHER: England's Steve McNamara and Tony Smith, pictured during the 2008 World Cup, in Newcastle, Australia. PICTURE BY VAUGHN RIDLEY/SWPIX.COM

On that experience with Sydney club St George, McNamara recalled: “It was in 1993 when the seasons were split and we played winter here.

“Brian Smith, Tony’s brother, had coached me at Hull and I went across there for three months and played reserve grade.

“It was a great experience: Tony was there, Matthew Elliott was a player at the time, Ricky Woolford and some of the outstanding names of Australian rugby.

“I was just a young kid starry-eyed, and Tony was a bit of a guiding light, playing first grade some weeks and reserve grade others.

Catalans' head coach Steve McNamara, right, pictured with Israel Folau. Picture by Alex Whitehead/

“It was a great learning experience.”

McNamara, who returned to Australia to assist Smith with England at the 2008 World Cup, also linked up with him at Huddersfield.

Although Smith, 54, has won Grand Finals and a World Club Challenge with Leeds Rhinos and Challenge Cups for Warrington Wolves, McNamara said it was with relegated Giants in 2002 that highlighted his coaching class.

“Probably his biggest achievement that people don’t talk about – and I was there and witnessed it first hand – was when he kept a team together that lost 15 games straight at Huddersfield,” he said.

“That takes one hell of a coach in that situation to hold your nerve and convince a team that it’s moving in the right direction.

“And to control the people above you who control your job and make sure everybody understands that.

“For the Huddersfield club to develop to where it’s at now, Tony developed a lot of foundations for that then. It’s not a trophy on the board or a medal in his cabinet, but seeing him deal with that – and I was an ageing player and a young coach coming through – showed the type of bloke he is.”

But today they put friendship on hold once more, to pit their skills against each other again.

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