Newcastle Falcons’ rugby league recruit Lee Smith has revealed his childhood background in union, but admits he is still getting to grips with the 15-man game.
The 27-year-old had a brief flirtation with the Aviva Premiership at London Wasps five years ago, insisting his time with Morley RFC as a teenager has given him a solid grounding.
“Not many people know that when I was younger I played just as much rugby union as I did rugby league,” said the 27-year-old, who has won three Super League titles and eight England caps.
“I played for Morley RFC near Leeds, and it was great because my rugby league team played on a Saturday and Morley played on a Sunday, which meant I could do both.
“It got to a situation at 16 where I had to choose between signing for Leeds Rhinos in the Super League or going to an England rugby union training camp, but my boyhood dream was to play for Leeds.”
Expanding on the decision, Smith said: “In rugby union I played for Central Yorkshire, then Yorkshire, and I had an offer to go on some sort of national camp at Loughborough University. I was quite keen to do that, but then the very same week I had to sign for Leeds.
“When you are a kid you don’t really realise what decision like that will lead to, but I am glad I chose the way I did.
“All I ever wanted to do was play for the Rhinos, and luckily enough I did that. I was pretty successful with them, and it was because of that success that I wanted to try something new in terms of going to London Wasps.
“For whatever reason that didn’t quite pan out, but I am older now and I have a more experienced head on my shoulders. I felt this was the right time to come over again, and it is an exciting challenge for me.”
Newcastle’s director of rugby Dean Richards has revealed he could well utilise Smith’s talents in the back-three during their Premiership run-in, as they aim to maintain top-flight status.
The losing bonus point picked up in Saturday’s 18-14 loss at Harlequins extended the Falcons’ buffer from Worcester at the bottom back to 11 points, the Warriors well beaten by a Saints team which travels to Kingston Park this Sunday.
“Getting rid of some of the instinctive rugby league habits is one side of it, and basically just getting to know the calls,” said Smith, who has been spending early mornings in his hotel sat with a cup of coffee, immersed in the Falcons’ playbook.
“I have probably learnt more about rugby union in this past week at Newcastle than I ever have before.
“It is really just learning how the team works, and what their style is. That is the most important thing.
“Before the Harlequins game I slotted in by running against the starting team, showing some of the plays Quins would use against us. The lads are really helping me, and I am constantly asking questions.
“Because the players here are so used to it they are calling three or four plays at once, and it takes 10 seconds for it all to register with me. As much as they are bearing with me I know I have got to pick it up on the run, but I am getting there.”
Insisting the outlook remains positive despite Premiership safety not yet being guaranteed, the Yorkshireman added: “There is no talk about relegation here.
“It is all a week-to-week basis, and even in defeat to Bath the other week we were still in the game.
“If you put yourself in that position against a top side like that you have a chance, and it is all just about making the most of what opportunities you create.”