The NRL’s new boss

THE Welsh are noted for their beguiling turn of phrase and lyrical intonation.

New NRL chief executive, Dave Smith will need all his Welsh charm, along with his undoubted business acumen, to make a real go of his first 12 months in the job, with 16 club chief executives watching his every move.

Smith didn’t know the name of the Australian captain when asked last year. He has got up to speed since then and not surprisingly has been in touch with Cameron Smith, the successor to Darren Lockyer as the leader of our national side.

Like most of his countrymen, Dave Smith followed and played the Welsh national game of rugby union, which was regularly pillaged by English rugby league clubs up until 1996 when union went professional.

When I covered 1982 Kangaroo tour of Britain and France, the Welsh league side was made up almost entirely of former union internationals.

Brynmor Williams, the Welsh halfback, and a former British Lions rugby union tourist to New Zealand, described the Frank Stanton coached ’82 Kangaroos as the best team he had played against, or witnessed, in either code of rugby.

(Williams scored a try against the Kangaroos following on from his try for Wales against the Wallabies at Ballymore four years earlier).

Now the Welsh league side is made up almost entirely of North of England or Australian lads with Welsh blood, as well as graduates from a relatively strong semi-professional and amateur set-up in Wales.

Smith’s brief is to ensure the NRL continues to thrive, but it is important to also look at the big picture, and that means grassroots footy, strong second tier competitions, the schools and universities, State of Origin and international football.

It is probably fair to say that not all the 16 NRL CEOS have that big picture approach.

The NRL starts on March 7, but Super League (a ‘summer sport’), kicks off this weekend in the depths of the European winter.

I have supported Widnes since 1973 when my captain-coach at Murwillumbah Brothers was Brian Atherton, a Widnesian.

In 1977-78 when I lived in Widnes for several months, the Vikings (or Chemics as they were known then) were at the peak of their powers, and most of the players were locals.

One exception was Glynn Shaw, a former Welsh union star who took to his new sport with relish, tackling everything that moved, going on to represent Great Britain in one Test against New Zealand in 1980 as well as playing league for Wales several times.

Hopefully Smith takes to league with the same enthusiasm as Shaw, and he has been saying all the right things.

But I am suspicious of professional sports administrators who take charge of games that are not in their blood.

I would like to know what former NRL CEO, David Gallop has to say over the dinner table at home about soccer, the game he now administers, given he always spoke so glowingly about rugby league being the best product in Australia.

.I bet Dave Smith could answer this question without notice: Which English club did Jonathan Davies play for when he defected from Welsh rugby union?

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