Smith – a proud Norths man

North­ern United rugby stal­wart Henry Smith chats to Kris Dando about the ter­ror of the cap­tain’s speech, his tough­est op­po­nent and the im­por­tance of fam­ily.

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

Norths are well down the Swin­dale Shield standings. Has it been a tough sea­son?

It hasn’t been easy, es­pe­cially when you look back at the power we were a few years ago. There’s a lot of new faces. Some young play­ers are com­ing through, which is a good thing. The loss to Hutt Old Boys [on May 17, by two points] was hard be­cause we went off the boil at the wrong times. Mak­ing the Ju­bilee Cup is a pri­or­ity for us.

You’re not old at 31, but is it easy to deal with these young bucks com­ing in?

I started in the prems as a young fella, so I know what it’s like. I was treated re­ally well by the se­nior play­ers when I made the side [in 2003]. I can re­mem­ber TJ Per­e­nara when he was com­ing through and he was push­ing all these guys around at train­ing. I was like, ‘‘Who’s this kid push­ing his weight around?’’ Now look at where he is, and good on him too.

Who are the best play­ers you’ve played at Norths with?

We had that era a few years ago with Ants Perenise, John Sch­wal­ger, the El­li­son boys, Rob­bie Fruean, Jerry Collins and James So’oialo and Bux­ton Popoali’i scor­ing all those points. I felt blessed to play along­side those amaz­ing play­ers.

Can you re­mem­ber your first game for the pre­miers?

Not re­ally. What I do re­mem­ber is some of the older guys and my dad [Henry Smith Sr] telling me what it meant to pull on the Norths jersey. It was re­ally emo­tional. They told me about the people who had worn the jersey be­fore, what the game means and to never take it for granted.

Have you al­ways been a Norths boy, then?

I played for Ti­tahi Bay be­fore the merger of Ti­tahi Bay and Porirua into Norths. Then I played at col­lege [Viard] be­fore mak­ing the Norths colts. Me and Ants [ Perenise] and John [Sch­wal­ger] all made it in around the same time, so that was cool. Al­ways in the front row? I had a few games at cen­tre as a young fella, but I kept bulk­ing up. The low num­bers were al­ways go­ing to be on my back.

Has not play­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive rugby been a re­gret?

I was one of the ones that was be­hind Ged Robin­son and Dane Coles [in the frame for Welling­ton] and now the years are tick­ing on. I un­der­stand that my time has prob­a­bly gone and the coaches will be look­ing at fresh talent.

Was play­ing over­seas an op­tion?

It def­i­nitely came up and things were look­ing promis­ing . . . but I couldn’t go over there and leave my fam­ily be­hind. You need to de­cide what’s im­por­tant in life.

You were cap­tain dur­ing that golden run in 2010 and 2011. What was that like?

In 2010, in the sec­ond round, our cap­tain Faifili Le­vave was called into the Welling­ton side and I was asked to be cap­tain. It was a huge hon­our. Un­like my old man, I’m not a pub­lic speaker and I was told I had to make a speech af­ter the game in the clu­b­rooms. I said to the coaches, ‘‘You shouldn’t have told me that be­fore the game’’. It was all I could think about when I was sup­posed to be con­cen­trat­ing on play­ing.

Your per­sonal high­light for Norths?

Win­ning the Ju­bilee Cup in 2010, beat­ing Poneke.

It was the last time we played the fi­nal at West­pac Sta­dium and James and Bux­ton were just amaz­ing.

Tough­est op­po­nent you’ve come up against?

One of the hard­est guys was the Ori­en­tal-Ron­go­tai tight­head prop, Donal McNa­mara. When you’re up against him, it’s a hard day at the of­fice. I re­mem­ber crunch­ing into him at the scrums and see­ing stars.

The team you most liked to beat?

There was never one team, re­ally, but it was al­ways good to put one over Tawa, be­cause you of­ten had Norths boys there. The un­der­dogs of a few years ago, like Tawa, Ories and Old BoysUniver­sity, are now the ones to beat. Now, get­ting five points off them is a big deal, so things have swung around.

Your fa­ther was a renowned ath­lete, at­tend­ing two Olympic Games and hold­ing New Zealand shot put and dis­cus records. Were you into ath­let­ics?

I used to do a lot of ath­let­ics and went to na­tion­als for shot put as a young man. One of my ri­vals back then was Thomas Wal­drom. But rugby was al­ways big­ger for me, and my fam­ily sup­ported that choice.

What was the feel­ing like for you when you reached 150 games for Norths on April 26?

The games just start adding up and then you’re at 150. For me, it was an­other game. There are a few matches miss­ing from the records, but some­one said I was at 149 be­fore the sea­son be­gan, so I had to keep go­ing. There are a few guys who’ve played more. Look at Peato Lafaele – he’s played over 200 and is still go­ing. How’s the body hold­ing up? I’m feel­ing it more. I have two young chil­dren now and they keep me busy on a Sun­day. I’m do­ing ex­tra stuff at home to make up for it. It’s only fair on my part­ner as I’m away Satur­day. She has been very un­der­stand­ing. I was only sup­posed to be com­ing off the bench this sea­son, but I seem to be play­ing a bit more. First it was 20 min­utes, then it be­came 30. Against Hutt Old Boys I played 80 min­utes and was shat­tered. Re­tire­ment beck­ons then? I’m liv­ing in Wainuiomata now and work long hours [as a courier], so only make it to one train­ing per week. It’s harder with a fam­ily, but they’re my fo­cus and hugely im­por­tant to me. I might hit Wainui up for a few games. We’ll see what hap­pens and how my body feels. I’ve al­ways had the pas­sion and loy­alty for Norths – last year was go­ing to be my last but I had the old man in my ear. My un­cle passed away and Dad was say­ing, ‘‘He would want you to keep play­ing’’.

Proud: Henry Smith af­ter the Hard­ham Cup fi­nal in 2013.

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