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NZLEAGUE.CO.NZ

History

George Smith One of the Best!

George Smith was one of New Zealand's great sporting all rounder's, performing at a high level in Rugby and Rugby Leagues, athletics and horse racing.

Born on the 20th September 1874 in Auckland, George went to the Wellesley Street School until he left school. He started working as a stable boy. He went from working as a stable boy to being a jockey. 

The highlight of his racing career as a jockey was riding the winning horse Impulse in the 1894 New Zealand Cup at Riccarton at the age of 18. George's weight at this time was 49kg.

After finishing being a jockey George turned his abilities in 1895 to rugby in Auckland playing for the City Rugby Club. In 1897 George was selected in the All Blacks team to tour Australia. George played in 10 matches on this tour scoring 11 tries.

George had grown some since his days as a jockey, he now weighted in at 76kg and 1.70m tall. His position was on the wing.

It wasn't until 1901 that George played for the All Blacks again, however he hadn't been lazy, he had as being doing athletics during this time. Between 1898 and 1904 he was very successful in the sprints and hurdles.

George had won in the following New Zealand athletics championships 100 yards sprint 5 times, 120 yard hurdles 4 times and 440 yards hurdles 5 times. He was also successful in Australia winning the Australian Championship in the 440 yards hurdles 3 times and the 120 yards hurdles 2 times.

In 1902 George won the British Amateur Athletic Association's 120 yard hurdles, it was during this time that George first come across the Northern Union game later to be known as Rugby League. He was approached by the Yorkshire club Manningham, who offered George a sign on fee of £100 and a weekly payment of £3, George turned down this offer.

In 1904 George set an unofficial world record time in the 440 yards hurdles with a time of 58.5s, the time was never ratified. George’s success at athletics resulted in him having the nickname ‘The Greyhound’. 

In 1905 George returned to rugby and was selected on the 1905 Originals tour of Britain. In the early part of the tour George was one of the star performers, playing in 19 matches and scored 19 tires. George played his only tests for the All Blacks against Scotland and Ireland. He only played one more game after getting injured on this tour.

It was on the 1905 Originals tour that George had a good look at Northern Union and liked what he saw. During his rugby career George played 39 times for the All Blacks and scored 34 tries, played 21 times on the wing and 18 times at centre.

In 1906 George's rugby club the City Club was on tour in Australia, it was during this time that George held talks with James Giltinan and Victor Trumper, which lead to the formation of the New South Wales Rugby League.

Albert Baskerville with the assistance of George started the planning for the All Gold's Northern Union tour of Britain. The All Gold's toured Australia on the way to Britain in 1907, they played 3 games against Australia side. These games were played under rugby rules, because they hadn't yet seen a rule book for the Northern Union game. George was the vice captain of the tour and played in 4 tests. The All Gold's won the 3 match series against the Northern Union team (Great Britain).

It was during this tour that George signed with the Oldham club for a sign on fee of £150. George played for Oldham until 1916 when he broke his leg; George was 42 years old at the time. During his time at Oldham George played in 1 Challenge Cup final in 1912 and 3 Championship finals from 1909 to 1911, in total George played 173 games for Oldham scored 310 points (100 tries and 5 goals).

He married Edith Kemble in 1908 and they had 2 daughters and a son. The family were going to return to New Zealand in 1920, but they never left after the death of George's wife Edith. The son was also named George and he two played both Rugby and League. However the Son died in a Japanese prison camp in 1943.

Because George had been in Britain so long he developed a Lancashire accent, but still considered himself to be a New Zealand and always meet touring Kiwis and All black touring teams.

On 7th December 1954 George died in Oldham at the age of 80.

References:
Coffey and Wood The Kiwis: 100 Years of International Rugby League ISBN 1869710908
John Haynes From All Blacks to All Golds: Rugby League's Pioneers, Christchurch, Ryan and Haynes, 1996. ISBN 0473038641
Malcolm Andrews The A-Z of Rugby League, Auckland, Hodder Moa Beckett, 1995, ISBN 0340599561 
Image from Malcolm Andrews The A-Z of Rugby League, Auckland, Hodder Moa Beckett, 1995, ISBN 0340599561