George William Smith (sportsman)
|Full name||George William Smith|
20 September 1874|
Auckland, New Zealand
|Died||7 December 1954
|Height||170 cm (5 ft 7 in)|
|Weight||76 kg (12 st 0 lb)|
|Position||Wing, Centre, Second-row|
Smith was born in Auckland and educated at Wellesley Street School. He became a successful jockey and won the 1894 New Zealand Cup, riding Impulse. He had to abandon his racing career after gaining weight.
As a track athlete, Smith was an outstanding sprinter and hurdler, winning 15 national championships between 1898 and 1904 (100 yards sprint and 440 yards hurdles five times each and the 120 yards hurdles four times plus the 250 yards once), as well as multiple Australasian championships and the 1902 British AAA quarter-mile hurdles, in which event he had an unofficial world record of 58.5s. While in Britain in 1902 Manningham F.C. tried to sign Smith to play rugby league. Smith turned down the £100 contract.
Smith began his rugby career in 1895 playing rugby union for the City Rugby Club in Auckland. He first represented his home province Auckland in 1896 and, in the following year made, his debut for the New Zealand national team against New South Wales. However, in the following years, Smith played little rugby, instead preferring to concentrate on track. He made a come back in 1901, gaining All Black selection, before disappearing again until he was enticed back to the game with the prospect of joining the 'Originals' tour to the British Isles and France in 1905.
During the Originals tour, Smith was one of the outstanding players, especially in the early part of the tour, playing in 19 games, including the internationals against Scotland and Ireland, and scoring 19 tries. It was during this time in Britain that he first saw Northern Union being played.
Smith played for the City club and represented Auckland in 1906. City conducted a four-game tour of Sydney after the season had ended.
While in Sydney with the City club Smith met an Australian entrepreneur, James Giltinan, and discussed the potential of professional rugby in Australasia. Smith is reported to have told Giltinan "What about you gettings Rugby League going in Australia, and I'll do my best when I cross the Tasman home." He then met Albert Baskiville in Wellington and played a leading part in the formation of the professional 1907-1908 New Zealand rugby tour of Great Britain, helping to select the touring party. At the time Smith was probably the best known athlete in New Zealand and his involvement in the tour lent it credibility and increased its ability to attract players. Smith was elected vice-captain and the tour was a success, both financially and on the field, with the team winning its three match series against Great Britain. Smith later described the tour as the happiest one he had ever been associated with.
After touring with the professional All Blacks he stayed on in Britain to play professionally with the Oldham club, signing a £150 contract. This gave Smith the financial freedom he had been seeking and he bought his fiancée over from New Zealand to join him in Oldham. George William Smith played Centre, i.e. number 3, in Oldham's 9-10 defeat by Wigan in the 1908 Lancashire Cup final during the 1908–09 season at Wheater's Field, Broughton, Salford on Saturday 19 December 1908. Smith played Left-Wing, i.e. number 5, in Oldham's 3-7 defeat to Wigan in the Championship final during the 1908–09 season at The Willows, Salford on Saturday 1 May 1909. By 1912 Smith had moved into the forwards and played at second row. Smith played for the club until 1916 when a broken leg ended his career.
Smith then joined a textile firm but in 1932 returned to rugby league, being involved in the Oldham coaching staff for three years. He often met touring New Zealand League and All Blacks sides. He lived in Oldham until his death on 7 December 1954.
For his role in the birth of international rugby league, the 'George Smith Medal' was minted in 2002 to be awarded to the player of Test series between Great Britain and New Zealand. That year Smith's 92-year-old daughter Edna Stansfield, who was living in Oldham, viewed the medal inspired by her father when she was visited by a director of the New Zealand Rugby League. His son, George Smith, played both rugby codes and died in a Japanese prisoner camp in 1943.
- Coffey and Wood The Kiwis: 100 Years of International Rugby League ISBN 1-86971-090-8
- Coffey, John and Bernie Wood Auckland, 100 years of rugby league, 1909–2009, 2009. ISBN 978-1-86969-366-4, p.3.
- John Haynes From All Blacks to All Golds: Rugby League's Pioneers, Christchurch, Ryan and Haynes, 1996. ISBN 0-473-03864-1
- "1908–1909 Lancashire Cup Final". wigan.rlfans.com. 31 December 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
- "1908–1909 Championship Final". cherryandwhite.co.uk. wigan.rlfans.com. Retrieved 3 January 2012.
- "Confusion the name of the game". The New Zealand Herald. APN New Zealand. NZPA. 15 November 2002. Retrieved 20 August 2014.
- McMillan, N. A. C. 'Smith, George William 1874 – 1954'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 7 April 2006