Penrith playmaker Will Smith made a solid first grade debut against the Bulldogs on Friday night. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos.
He's the rookie playmaker entrusted to help steer Penrith through to the finals, but Will Smith almost never made it through the pre-season.
Having moved from Newcastle to Penrith over the summer, Smith revealed that he felt like going home just a few weeks into his training with his new club.
Seven months on and the Dubbo product was solid in his first grade debut in the Panthers' 22-16 win over the Bulldogs on Friday night.
But it was an opportunity that nearly didn't happen.
"Pretty much halfway through the pre-season I was homesick," he said.
"My partner, she was pregnant at the time. She was back in Newcastle still working and probably a month after the baby was born she moved down and that made everything easier. That helped."
Bearing the same name of father and grandfather William Smith, the Dubbo Westside Rabbitohs product shifted to Newcastle at a young age and rose through the ranks there before being enticed to sign with the Panthers by another former Knights coach in Penrith NSW Cup mentor Garth Brennan last year.
"I grew up in Dubbo and moved to Newcastle when I was a kid and it was good there, but I had to move here because the opportunity was here," he said.
"The move has surprised me though, just to be here playing NRL now."
After being told by coach Ivan Cleary on Monday that he was going to be named to make his debut last night, the 22-year-old received some strong advice from club boss Phil Gould.
"Both Gus and Ivan, they both didn't put any pressure on me at all during the week. They just to go out there and play my game," he said.
"Ivan said to do what I do, just let Sowie control everything and if I see anything, to go and take it.
"It was good, just a quicker pace. It took me a while to get in there. The back half probably got to me. I was cramping up in both legs. Just had to get through it," he said.
Halves partner Jamie Soward praised Smith, who had 50 family and friends make the trip down from Newcastle, for a strong debut that included some neat touches.
"He's a great kid and I thought he did his job tonight. I'm very happy for him," he said.
"He can play anywhere in the backline and he... controlled his edge really well and competed all night. You only get to make your debut once and very happy for him that we won."