RETURNING Wakefield Trinity Wildcats back Lee Smith says he thought he was “done” with rugby league for good.
The former England international is back in the sport for a third time having returned from an ill-fated spell with Newcastle Falcons.
He spent a brief stint with Wasps after leaving hometown Leeds Rhinos at the end of 2009 and departed Wakefield for the North-East in February last year
However, winger Smith asked to be released by Newcastle in April and, having been with no club since, has now signed a deal with Trinity until the end of the season.
He could possibly feature at Huddersfield Giants tomorrow as one of three new signings – Castleford Tigers hooker Scott Moore and former New Zealand Warriors centre Bill Tupou are the others – included in Brian Smith’s 19-man squad.
However, Smith admitted: “To be totally honest, this wasn’t my first choice. I wanted to stay in rugby union but it was a tough time at Newcastle. Without going into too much detail, I played five first-team games up there and two of those were against Romanian part-timers. So it was pretty frustrating.
“They came to get me (from Wakefield) and when they offered me a contract, it was at the time the best thing to do for my career.
“And when I moved to Newcastle, the plan was to be done with rugby league.
“I’ve always had an ambition to play at the highest level in rugby union and I thought that was it with this game, I really did.
“But I didn’t get as many chances as I would’ve liked, which had the knock-on effect that there weren’t many clubs in for me.
“With those that were, I didn’t think it was fair to be moving my family all over the country or abroad. It was either move to the south of the country or overseas – France, Italy or maybe even Ireland.
“We decided to relocate back to Leeds then Wakefield gave me an opportunity. It wasn’t the right thing to drag the kids around the country.”
Three-time Grand Final winner Smith could be a vital asset in Trinity’s bid to avoid relegation.
With just one Super League win in 20 games, they have long been consigned to The Qualifiers where they will face the likes of Championship high-fliers Leigh Centurions and Bradford Bulls for a top-flight place in 2016.
“I’m only 28 and have a few years in front of me,” insisted Smith, who played in the 2008 World Cup and can also operate at full-back and centre.
“I always want to play at the highest level I can and Wakefield have given me that chance again.
“I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into this series and it’s probably the best situation for me to come into.”
While some players privately look upon the prospects ahead with trepidation – after all, their livelihoods are at stake – Smith is an avid fan of the “new era” concept which sees Super League’s bottom four in a mini-division with the Championship’s leading quarter over seven games.
The top three earn the right to play among the elite in 2016 while fourth play fifth in the ‘Million Pound’ match for the final spot, with the remaining headed for the second tier next term.
Smith, who scored 22 tries in 54 games for Trinity between 2012 and 2014, insisted: “It’s a great idea as it makes it really competitive and gives the Championship sides the chance to come up in if they’re good enough.
“I saw Leigh play against Warrington in the Challenge Cup and I was massively impressed with them and they drew with Bradford last week, so I imagine they’re up there as well.
“Every game is going to be like a cup game. The games are pressurised and we have to win them – we know we’re going to be a target.”
Chris Riley, Michael Sio, Chris Annakin, Craig Hall and Matty Ashurst could all be recalled by Smith tomorrow although he is without the injured trio of Kiwi full-back Kevin Locke, recent Castleford signing Jordan Tansey and first-choice half-back Tim Smith, too.
Stuart Howarth, Ali Lauitiiti and Paul McShane – who moved to Castleford on Thursday in the deal that saw Moore head the other way – also drop out from the 19-man squad selected ahead of last week’s 58-20 defeat to the Tigers.