Rugby League World Cup: World No 1 Cameron Smith is the glue in the Aussie camp
Captain full of praise for England and plays down talk of rifts within his own squad
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Wednesday 23 October 2013
There is one man less likely than most to take England for granted in the opening fixture of the World Cup on Saturday. Cameron Smith is an unusual Australian; he can remember what it feels like to lose to a British team in an international.
It was in 2006 that the current Kangaroo captain played for the first time against what was then Great Britain – suffering a 23-12 Tri-Nations defeat.
"I came off the bench in Sydney and got a bit of a hostile welcome," he recalls. "A slap around the head from Terry Newton. They were a great football team and have been ever since."
This almost exaggerated respect for the opposition is just about part of the job description for an Australian skipper and he is not going to fall down on that aspect of his role just because of an inconvenient detail like England losing to Italy in Saturday's warm-up match.
"What that proves to me is that, if you're not ready for any opposition, you're going to get beaten."
Last weekend most Australian players opted to watch Manchester United rather than England versus Italy a few miles away. "But they know they will be facing a very different England team on Saturday," Smith says.
It is hard to exaggerate Smith's importance as a firm hand on the tiller in Australia's World Cup campaign. He was part of the team that lost to New Zealand in the final five years ago. "But the scars have healed from that," he insists. "This is not about redemption, although there is pressure on an Australian side every time you go on to the pitch."
When an international jury awarded this year's Golden Boot for the best player in the world, they settled for once not on the more eye-catching skills of a Billy Slater or a Greg Inglis, but on the unflashy efficiency of Smith, the man who makes it all tick from hooker.
He is a vital link off the field as well. This year, more than any other, the rumour mills have been rife with suggestions of a serious split between the Queensland and New South Wales players in the Australian squad.
"I can guarantee you that it's not true," he says. "We know where it comes from. It comes from Paul Gallen punching Nate Myles in the head. But Nate's a wonderful guy and those two get on fine. When you get into camp you're not representing Queensland or New South Wales; you're representing Australia."
Smith says that sort of togetherness will be needed against the world champion Kiwis and – despite recent evidence to the contrary – England.
"They both have some wonderful players who will punish you if you're not on your game," says the world's current No 1.
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