Len Smith

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For other people named Leonard Smith, see Leonard Smith (disambiguation).
Len Smith
Len Smith 1947.jpg
Full name Leonard Herbert Smith
Date of birth 25 March 1918
Place of birth Paddington, New South Wales
Date of death 26 April 2000
Place of death Bexley North, New South Wales
Rugby league career
Position Five-eighth
correct as of 31 December 2007.
Professional clubs
Years Club / team Caps (points)
1943-1948 Newtown 74 (131)
correct as of 31 December 2007.
State Representation
Years Club / team Caps (points)
1947-1948 NSW 8 (21)
National teams
Years Club / team Caps (points)
1948 Australia 2 (0)
correct as of 31 December 2007.
Rugby union career
Playing career
Position Centre, Five-eighth
Amateur clubs
Years Club / team
1937-1939 Eastern Suburbs RUFC
Provincial/State sides
Years Club / team Caps (points)
1939 NSW
correct as of 31 December 2007.
National team(s)
Years Club / team Caps (points)
1939 Australia 0
correct as of 31 December 2007.

Len Smith (1918–2000) was an Australian representative rugby union and rugby league footballer of the 1930s and 40s. He captained the Kangaroos in two Tests 1948 and was controversially omitted from the 1948-49 Kangaroo tour of Great Britain.

Rugby union career[edit]

Smith played with the Eastern Suburbs RUFC in the 1930s and after making state representative appearance for New South Wales against Queensland, Victoria and the All Blacks he was selected as a Wallaby for the ill fated 1939 tour of Great Britain. Docking at Southhampton the day before World War II was declared, the side left England without playing a game.

1939 Wallabies training on deck en route to England.

Wartime[edit]

Smith enlisted in the AIF during World War II and served in Palestine, Egypt and Syria before returning home in 1942. Playing rugby league in the army Smith realised that many union players in Sydney had converted and on his return he switched codes to be able to compete against the best players. He remained in the Army whilst playing for Newtown. For the 1944 semi-final against the St George Smith had to travel 25 hours by train from an army camp in Melbourne. Smith saw further active service and a command from 1944 to 1945 in New Guinea. At discharge in October 1945 he was a Captain in the 2/2 Australian Ordnance Stores Company.

Rugby league career[edit]

Club career

Smith joined the Newtown Bluebags in 1942 and played with the club until 1948, aside from the 1945 season when he was on active service. He scored 45 tries for Newtown during his five year career at the club. During the final years of the second world war, when players and coaches became scarce, Len Smith co-coached the Newtown first grade team with Frank Farrell.

Representative career

He was selected in Sydney Firsts in 1946. In 1947 at age 28 he was selected as captain of Sydney and NSW and won the NSW Player of the Year award.

He debuted for the Kangaroos in 1948 being named as captain-coach for a two Test series against New Zealand. He is listed on the Australian Players Register as Kangaroo No. 247.[1] That year he was also named New South Wales player of the year.

The Australians were beaten in a shock upset 21-19 in the 1st Test in Sydney but regrouped to win the 2nd test in Brisbane 13-4. Smith's tactics of running himself like a forward at the Kiwi centres was critical to the victory.

Accolades

In 2008, the centenary year of rugby league in Australia, Smith was named in the Newtown Jets 18-man team of the century.

Selection controversy[edit]

It seemed a mere formality that Smith would be chosen to lead the team of young inexperienced Kangaroos on the end of year 1948 Tour of England but on the night the side was announced Smith was inexplicably left out of the party.

It was unfathomable that the current Australian captain/coach having just won a Test would not be good enough to be in selected in the touring squad of 28. There was press uproar at the time and lobbying for a change by Newtown. Some of those involved at the time when interviewd many years later by sporting journalists still spoke bitterly of the travesty.

In 1998 Rugby League historian Sean Fagan interviewed Smith who confirmed his suspicion that his Catholicism was the cause of the problem. Several members of the selection panel were Masons and at that time the touring captain often needed to speak at Northern English clubs with Masonic links. The 1948 Kangaroos failed to win a Test in England.

After football Len Smith became a respected sportswriter and was involved in the trotting industry.

Not a dual-code international[edit]

Regarding the 1939 Wallaby squad, the Whiticker reference records that "the squad played at exhibition match in Bombay on the journey home so that the players could be afforded international status" [2] and consequently refers to Smith as a dual-code international. However Sean Fagan casts doubt on this, citing his 1998 interview with Len Smith wherein Smith advised that the game was played between one-half of the touring squad against the other with extra numbers made up by some military personnel on hand in Bombay. This is supported by the Pollard reference which records that the Wallabies played against a "Gymkhana XV made up of military men and others".

Smith, (back row 3rd from left) in the Newtown 1943 premiership team
Smith lines up with Newtown in the 1943 Grand final against Norths

.

Sources[edit]

  • Fagan, Sean (2000–2006) RL1908.com
  • Whiticker, Alan (2004) Captaining the Kangaroos, New Holland, Sydney
  • Pollard, Jack (1984) Australian Rugby Union: The Game and the Players Angus and Robertson Publishing

External links[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ ARL Annual Report 2005, page 53.
  2. ^ Whiticker, Captaining the Kangaroos p129.
Preceded by
Ron Bailey
Australian national rugby league captain
1948
Succeeded by
Col Maxwell