Christchurch-born, late-blooming Jeremy Smith gained a further rugby league grounding in Melbourne and south-east Queensland, before becoming one of the most prominent Kiwis of the modern era in 22 Tests and winning NRL Grand Finals with two clubs during a first-grade tenure that spanned 13 seasons, 214 games and four teams.
Smith first pulled on a boot as a five-year-old wearing the Sydenham Swans’ jersey. His family moved to Australia when he was 14, moving through the grades with Melbourne club Altona Roosters and then Gold Coast side Runaway Bay Seagulls.
After a brief stint at Northern Eagles that failed to garner an NRL call-up, Smith represented Queensland Residents from Tweed Heads Seagulls in 2003. He was snapped up by Melbourne Storm feeder club Norths Devils in 2004, making a tryscoring NRL debut among two late-season interchange appearances.
The burly forward was not called upon by Storm coach Craig Bellamy in 2005 – he again turned out for Queensland Residents from the Devils that season – but belatedly cemented a first-grade spot as a 26-year-old in the club’s 2006 minor premiership-winning seasons. Smith came off the bench in the Storm’s 15-8 loss to Brisbane in the Grand Final.
Smith celebrated in Melbourne’s 34-8 victory over Manly in the 2007 decider and earned a Kiwis Test debut at lock for the end-of-season clash with Australia. In one of the great international rugby league coincidences, halfback namesake Jeremy Smith also played his first match for New Zealand in the same match – but it was a forgettable occasion for the Kiwis, who were swamped by the Kangaroos by a record 58-0 scoreline. He started in all four Tests of the subsequent tour of Britain and France.
After coming off the bench in the 2008 Centenary Test loss to Australia at the SCG, Smith featured in a third NRL Grand Final – a 40-0 defeat to Manly – before starring in the Kiwis’ euphoric World Cup triumph. The imposing back-rower played in all five of New Zealand’s matches at the tournament; his seldom-used goalkicking skills came to the fore in the pool-stage and semi-final wins over England, while he crashed over under the posts for a superb solo try to put the Kiwis on the board in the 34-20 victory against Australia in the final after they trailed 10-0 early.
Smith joined Kiwis assistant coach, the legendary Wayne Bennett, at St George Illawarra in 2009. His two seasons at the Dragons – who collected back-to-back minor premierships during his time there – were punctuated by injuries, which saw him miss all of the Kiwis’ 2009 schedule.
But he was a vital cog in the Saints’ long-awaited Grand Final success in 2010 and played an equally prominent role as the Kiwis surge to Four Nations glory weeks later. Smith scored two tries in a landslide win over Papua New Guinea, while his No.13 battle with Kangaroos enforcer Paul Gallen was a memorable feature of the Kiwis’ 16-12 upset victory in another Suncorp Stadium final.
Smith became Gallen’s Cronulla clubmate at Cronulla in 2011, playing 42 games for the club in a two-season stint and helping the Sharks end three years in the bottom-four mire with a finals appearance in 2012.
After playing all five matches of New Zealand’s 2011 schedule, the 32-year-old Smith made his 22nd and final Test appearance in the 2012 mid-season loss to Australia at Eden Park and was named Kiwi Player of the Year at the NZRL awards. Only Kiwis legends Alister Atkinson, Hugh McGahan and Mel Cooke started more Tests at loose forward than Smith’s 19.
Smith linked with Bennett again in 2013 at Newcastle, spending four seasons at the Knights and passing the 200-game mark in the NRL during his farewell 2016 campaign. Revered for his toughness, durability and leadership, he played at least 15 first-grade games in the last 11 seasons of his career.
NEW ZEALAND (2007-08, 2010-12)
22 Tests – 3 tries, 8 goals (28 points)
-2007 Kiwis of Britain and France
-2008 Kiwis World Cup squad
-2010 Kiwis Four Nations squad
-2011 Kiwis Four Nations squad