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.
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.