From the Grandstand by Col Hennessy


Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down for almost two hours with one of NRL’s luminaries Brian Smith who has done it all in Rugby League. He played with St. George and South Sydney but really made a name for himself as a coach.

Just last week we had the Daly M awards in Brisbane and it reminded me that Brian won ‘coach of the year’ twice; with the Dragons (91) and then with the Roosters (2010). His resume speaks for itself, having taken three different clubs to the grand final a feat only Wayne Bennett has eclipsed last week with South Sydney.

Coaching runs in the family in a big way. His brother Tony actually coached the Great Britain side a few years ago while his son is currently coaching the Norths Devils in the finals of the Qld Cup.

When I told him my opening headline would be as above, he seemed pleased because he does see the Clarence Valley as his home. He surprised me when he related that he had lived in some thirty-five homes in his adult life. Not surprising when you see his coaching history.

He was born in Maclean hospital and his grandparents met in River Street Maclean one Saturday morning. He attended Maclean High School in the mid-sixties and went on to become a PE teacher after attending Sydney University. After captaining NSW schoolboys, he received an invitation from legendary Saints supremo Frank Facer to attend a trial and the rest is history.

Brian is regarded as the best coach never to win a NRL premiership despite his four attempts and that does not include losing the prestigious Challenge Cup at Wembley Stadium in 1996 when he coached Bradford.

During the interview, I pulled out one of my hundred biographies on Rugby League, this one written by Parramatta star Nathan Hindmarsh and opened it to the chapter titled ‘the year I’ll never forget’. It is all about the 2001 season where they were the best team by far, but Andrew Johns and his Newcastle teammates jumped the gun in the GF and raced to 24-0 lead in no time and despite clearly winning the minor premiership were not able to peg them back.

I asked him why he had not written a book himself given that most high-profile identities had done just that. He would have liked to have written a coaching manual, but publishers would be more interested in a ‘kiss and tell all’ story which is not his style.

Then I asked him what gave him the most satisfaction looking back over the years. He replied, “withstanding the pressure”. It was a journey of pressure and pleasure after all and when you look back, he has left clubs of his own accord and clubs have left him it is fair to say.

We discussed the rules of the game, and he is adamant that things should be left alone for a while. Too many blowout scores in matches are not good. We did agree on one of my favourite gripes that it is an unfair result when an attacking player stuffs up in the in-goal (while in possession) and the result is a 20metre restart from the 20m line. We agree it should be a play the ball start by defending side 10m out.

As I was closing, I asked him what life after football will look like. He was hesitant and I took the plunge and asked would he consider running for council. He smiled and then said he is looking for ways to involve himself in the community in one way or another and hoping to establish his own business.