Crusaders centre Jack Goodhue has made everyone sit up and take notice of him in the last two years and evoke comparisons with the great Conrad Smith.
STILL ONLY 22, JACK GOODHUE HAS LOOKED LIKE AN ALL BLACK IN WAITING SINCE HE EMERGED WITH THE CRUSADERS LAST YEAR.
I THOUGHT I WOULD JUST WORK ON MY SKILLS AND KEEP GOING. MY DREAM REALLY WAS TO PLAY FOR NORTHLAND AND I REALLY WOULD HAVE BEEN CONTENT WITH THAT SO TO MAKE THE ALL BLACKS...’ JACK GOODHUE
Anyone who has seen Jack Goodhue play for the Crusaders in the last two years will know that he looks like an All Black.
He has a rare composure for someone so young; an ability to relentlessly be accurate in his decision-making and execution. That’s not to say he doesn’t bring athletic attributes of note. He does, but it’s the way he packages his game that makes him such a good player. He has awareness, work ethic, distribution skills, a neat kicking game and a bit of pace and a bit of size that all come together to make him such an influential player.
There are emerging midfielders such as Vince Aso who have more pace and explosive power, but not the same breadth of skills and ultimately aren’t able to have the same influence.
And that’s why the 22-year-old Goodhue has found himself in the All Blacks squad to play France. He made such a compelling case for inclusion that the selectors felt they couldn’t leave him out. They had a look at him last year when they took Goodhue on the end of year tour, primarily to play the game against the French XV and they liked what they saw. Really liked it. How could they not? Goodhue was one of the stars of the show and made the step up look easy. He formed an instant relationship with Ngani Laumape in the midfield and the coaching group couldn’t help but project forward and foresee these two being the All Blacks regular midfield in 2020. When Goodhue returned to action with the Crusaders this year and delivered more immaculate rugby in the first 10 weeks, the All Blacks knew they couldn’t wait until 2020. The future was brought forward by two years and the decision was made to include five rather than the usual four midfielders in the first squad of this year.
Williams and Crotty will be given their opportunity to stake their claim against France and establish they are the best pairing and Laumape, Goodhue and Anton Lienert-Brown will be drip fed into the action and if they develop the way the selectors expect, there will be an intensity of competition that should drive performance.
Goodhue’s injection into the squad now is a deliberate plan to keep everyone on edge, to remove any complacency and use the natural competition to drive performance.
That worked well for the All Blacks in late 2014 and 2015 when they had a wider group of 40 genuine test players competing for 31 World Cup places.
“There are some guys, Sonny and Ryan who are very experienced and played a lot of minutes for us and we have some young talent and that is going to get competitive because soon enough in the future with a big tournament, five might not go into four,” says All Blacks selector Grant Fox.
“So we need to find a lot more about these guys and test drive them a bit more. If we understand them we can grow them.
“We are lucky we have some talent in this area as we have in the back three. There are some other areas that are a bit more challenging – in the loose forwards we are trying to find out a little bit more about what we have actually got.”
And this plan to slowly develop the next generation around see the months How pressure year. that the won’t established scenario being necessarily felt will by senior every develop be obvious duo midfielder in will the to inevitably everyone next later six in now but they by should October, have if an the even coaches harder have task got picking things a right, group of midfielders than they did in June. “Of course I would love to play the French,” says Goodhue. “To play them would be special. But to do that I have to train well. They have selected five midfielders because they want us to put pressure on Sonny and Ryan. That is going to be my job – to learn from them, to work together and make this a better team."
Part of the reason the All Blacks were determined to bring Goodhue into the squad at the expense of an outside back, is that they like his temperament and worldliness. He is ridiculously wise and realistic for someone so young and as All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has discovered in his 14 years with the All Blacks, attitude counts for an enormous amount.
Goodhue is a young man who is entirely grounded and that may be because he hasn’t pinned all his hopes to rugby. He hasn’t ever thought that he should be defined as a person by what he achieves or doesn’t on the rugby field and that traces back to his decision as a teenager to leave Northland to board at Mount Albert Grammar School in Auckland.
“Me and my twin brother [Blues lock Josh] went to MAGS in 2010,” says Goodhue.
“Our older two brothers had already been there and they had a good time and played some good footy. So naturally my twin and I wanted to go.
“Rugby in Auckland is fantastic because it is at a higher level and you have to be more competitive and you get better quality games and it set me up. I went down to Lincoln University after that on a rugby scholarship. They have a great rugby programme.
“It was education driven. I wanted to study agricultural science and I could do that at Palmerston North with Massey or at Lincoln and I figured go to Christchurch because I had a scholarship and I though the rugby competition might be a bit better.
“I was fortunate enough that Canterbury were short on midfielders in 2014 and I got my opportunity.”
Lady Luck opened the door to the professional ranks and Goodhue was good enough to walk through and make the most of it.
But it’s easy to believe he’d have been just as content, just as happy to still be playing club football. He never expected that his dreams would be fulfilled. Yes, he wanted to be a professional footballer but not at all costs.
He had a strong Plan-B and therefore has never been obsessed about making it or driven by some sense of entitlement.
“I think it was always something I wanted,” he says. “I wasn’t building my self-worth around it. If it didn’t happen I wasn’t going to be devastated and I had back-up plans and ideas about what would happen.
“I didn’t get picked for the New Zealand Barbarians or Secondary Schools and I knew there were some good players out there.
“I thought that at that age I deserved to make the Barbarians but it is such a hard team to select at that age because you have so many schools and so few selectors they are never going to get it right all the time.
“I just thought I would carry on doing what I was doing and players develop at different ages. You have got guys who can be fully grown men at 18 playing schoolboy rugby and when you have that contrast they are going to dominate at that age.
“I didn’t think too much of it. I thought I would just work on my skills and keep going. My dream really was to play for Northland and I really would have been content with that so to make the All Blacks…”
It’s the ease with which he absorbed his situation and rationalised the bigger picture that sets Goodhue apart from many of his peers. Not everyone can be so philosophical or accepting of rejection.
Not everyone, particularly among a generation who have only known instant gratification, can see that one disappointment is not a reason to give up.
It’s not uncommon for rejection to be the adversity that destroys the drive and motivation of some youngsters. It’s often those who have enjoyed selection in age-grade teams through the ranks, who suddenly quit the game when they don’t make the cut.
The resentment builds, the bitterness grows and soon enough the desire to fight back ends. Not with Goodhue. His rejection wasn’t the making him of as such, but it was another reminder that nothing at the highest level can be taken for granted and that missing out at 17 isn’t reason to believe you will automatically be missing selection for the foreseeable future.
“I guess if you are going to throw it all away for not making one team you really should check your attitude as you are not going to go far anyway,” says Goodhue.
“My twin brother made the secondary schools team and I wasn’t jealous of him at all. I was really happy for him and me and my dad went over to watch him play in Sydney against Australia and that was great.
“There have been so many players…Luke Romano was third XV or something and that just shows you that if you stick at it you have a chance.
“It is fantastic to be in this situation. I have worked hard if it hadn’t happened over for me I would have just worked hard and
With such an accepting attitude and wider outlook on life, Goodhue invites comparisons with former All Black Conrad Smith. He’s equally articulate and like Smith, Goodhue has built strong career foundations in another discipline.
He gets, even at 22, that there is a big, bad world out there where people have to get up early work hard for long hours and take home nowhere near the same pay as professional rugby players.
Goodhue has nothing but gratitude for the position in which he now finds himself which again was arguably the key emotion which drove Smith throughout his All Blacks career.
So far, though, the comparisons with Smith which have been made are based on how Goodhue plays. He is similar in that he is a player, much like Smith, who appears to be on a quest to make others look good.
He has that same selfless quality and that same desire to work for the 80 minutes even if there is not much in the way of obvious, headline-stealing glory to be had.
So how does Goodhue feel about being compared with Smith? It’s not always easy for an emerging player to live in the shadow of someone who is no longer playing.
New players want to be recognised for who they are and what they bring. But Goodhue is quite happy with it all.
“What I do is try to take the best from anyone and try to bring it into my game,” he says.
“Conrad was great on defence and a very good distributor so I try to bring that into my game. When I was watching him I was still quite young so I wasn’t watching the finer details but he was still inspirational.
“He was a hard worker and I have been compared with him a few times. I guess I pride myself on my tackles and try to be very accurate when I can be. Being compared with players… as long as it is a good thing…I don’t mind it I guess.”
CONRAD WAS GREAT ON DEFENCE AND A VERY GOOD DISTRIBUTOR SO I TRY TO BRING THAT INTO MY GAME. WHEN I WAS WATCHING HIM I WAS STILL QUITE YOUNG SO I WASN’T WATCHING THE FINER DETAILS BUT HE WAS STILL INSPIRATIONAL.’ JACK GOODHUE
EASY RIDER Goodhue has never pinned all his hopes on being a professional rugby player.
[ABOVE] BIG MOMENT Playing for Northland was Goodhue’s long term goal.