At 34 years of age, Knights back-rower Jeremy Smith hasn't given up hope of a Test recall with New Zealand. Copyright: Col Whelan/NRL Photos Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Sitting up in the dark late at night at his home in Newcastle, Jeremy Smith rode every bump and bruise of the Kiwis' World Cup final loss to Australia as if he was 17,000 kilometres away on the turf of Old Trafford himself.
As he watched his countrymen submit to a rampant Kangaroos team 34-2 in the final, the 22-Test representative wanted nothing more than to be there with them. But as quickly as he was gripped by disappointment, his thoughts soon turned to his daughter Cali who was still fighting for survival in Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital after being born 12 weeks premature.
Smith's wife Jody was first admitted into hospital just 20 weeks into her fourth pregnancy and six weeks later Cali was born, the morning of Newcastle's upset Semi-Final win over the Storm in Melbourne on September 21.
With the delicateness of the situation Smith wasn't informed of Cali's arrival until after the game and the tough-as-nails back-rower admitted that he wasn't sure what the outcome was going to be as he headed back to be by Jody's side.
"It happened so quick. I left Melbourne after that great win not knowing what to think, whether she was going to survive or what not," Smith told NRL.com of his third daughter who weighed just 790 grams at birth.
"She was so early and the doctors really didn't give us much chance and now to see her six months on, she's going great guns. She's doing everything that babies should be doing."
The concern over Cali's health and with three other children under the age of eight to look after, Smith made the decision to declare himself unavailable for selection for New Zealand's World Cup squad.
While Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney was unwilling to speculate on whether Smith's inclusion could have made a difference, he said the decision for him to stay at home almost had to be taken out of his hands.
"Certainly someone like him with his experience would have been an asset to the group but it was just unfortunate for him that family circumstances pulled him away from it," Kearney said two weeks out from the Test against Australia in Sydney on Friday, May 2.
"I'm fairly close with Jeremy so I kept in contact with him over the month leading up to him making the decision to withdraw.
"It was a tough decision for him, to rule himself out of contention. It was something that we were working through, it was obviously a very delicate matter, and in fairness we almost had to make the decision for him. He didn't want to make it but it was too important."
Although he knows in his heart that staying behind was the right decision, Smith hasn't given up hope of a Test recall and is eyeing off a spot in the Kiwis' back row for the upcoming Test and also the Four Nations tournament at the end of the year.
Through six games for Newcastle in 2014 he is averaging 82.6 metres and 23 tackles per game but with Smith it is often the work that is not recorded by the bean counters that is of most significance to his team.
He is a fierce competitor who plays well above his weight and at 34 years of age the desire to represent his country still burns strongly.
"I love pulling the Kiwi jersey on and missing the World Cup was a hard decision but it was the right decision," Smith said ahead of Friday night's clash with the Broncos. "My family needed me here and family has to always come first in my opinion.
"It was tough watching the games, I rode every minute of every game. I was up watching the boys and I suppose I went through the highs and lows as they did too. Any chance I get to play for the Kiwis I'll wear it with pride."
But for now Smith's focus is helping to improve on Newcastle's 2-4 start to the season and hopefully turning around poor discipline that has the Knights ranked third for total number of missed tackles and third for total penalties conceded.
"We probably haven't started the year too well but losing a couple of key players at the start of the year didn't help," he said of injuries to Jarrod Mullen and Darius Boyd. "We lost a bit of structure there but the people we've got in place have got a little bit more gelling to do... We've got it there we just need to make it happen a little bit more often.
"I just think we're giving away too many penalties and losing the ball too often to really force any pressure on the other team."