Smith & Morris: old flame, new colours

THE last time John Morris walked off a football field alongside Tim Smith, the pair were wearing Eels jerseys and gearing up for Mad Monday after bowing out of the finals at the hands of the Melbourne Storm.<br><br>“I still remember us getting our photo taken after that last game together in 2006,” Morris recalled in the wake of Cronulla’s shock win over Parramatta last Saturday night.<br><br>“I was off to Wests Tigers the next year and I didn’t think we’d ever get to play together again.<br><br>“It was a bit of a sad moment because we had achieved a fair bit together at Parramatta. But it’s funny how your worlds collide.<br><br>“Four years and a few different clubs later, here we are with the Sharks’ colours on!”<br><br>Smith’s arrival in the Shire last week, following his much-publicised battle with depression, has done more than solve a problem in the halves for Cronulla – it has also reunited the duo that was at the heart of Parramatta’s deep runs in 2005 and 2006.<br><br>While Morris wasn’t typically known as a five-eighth at the time – and has since returned to his preferred hooking role – he and Smith struck a lethal combination at the time that saw the Eels emerge as the most prolific attacking side in the competition (and 2005 minor premiers).<br><br>“It changed the way the whole side played,” Morris explained. “Tim was only a young kid and he wasn’t afraid to try things so we had a fair bit of confidence at the time.<br><br>“I remember back to a lot of the tries he was setting up with great kicks and cut-out passes – we had a good team that year but he orchestrated some impressive attack and together we started to believe we could always come up with the big plays when we needed them.”<br><br>Certainly his return to the NRL is a coup for Cronulla.<br><br>Having let go of halfback Brett Kimmorley 18 months ago and with Greg Bird and Brett Kearney also departed, the Sharks have struggled for continuity and finished last season as the worst attacking outfit in the Telstra Premiership.<br><br>Smith promises to change that – not simply through his own ability but because he brings stability to the key positions.<br><br>“That alone is a massive boost to the Sharks,” Morris said.<br><br>“As soon as Tim arrived you could see that the side was so much more stable and it means that other players aren’t forced to do what they’re not supposed to be doing.<br><br>“Guys like Trent Barrett and Paul Gallen can play their natural game now.”<br><br>Morris said it was a much more mature Tim Smith who had returned to the NRL in 2010 after two years away.<br><br>The then 23-year-old opted out at Parramatta in early 2008 after revealing that he had bipolar disorder and was struggling to cope with life in the spotlight.<br><br>He later moved to English Super League club Wigan, where he briefly played alongside new Cronulla team-mate Trent Barrett, before returning to Australia this season and eventually answering an SOS from the Sharks last week.<br><br>“With what Tim has had to deal with, it was massive for him to walk away from his elite position at the Eels to address his issues off the field,” Morris said.<br><br>“To come back after that is credit to him.<br><br>“He has matured a lot.<br><br>“It’s still the same Timmy in that he is bubbly and a larrikin, but he just seems to happy and stable now.<br><br>“It’s pleasing to see him back and he is still only 25, so he’s got a lot of footy ahead of him.”<br><br>The Sharks broke a 13-game losing streak against the Eels last week in Smith’s first outing for his new club but face a daunting task to back it up this weekend when they travel to Brookvale to take on Manly on Sunday afternoon.<br><br>Morris said the key to ensuring their season gets back on track was cutting down the errors that plagued their opening rounds – with Cronulla’s 65 errors so far the worst of any side in the competition.<br><br>“We didn’t give ourselves a chance in the opening three rounds with all that dropped ball, but our stats last weekend were impressive,” he said.<br><br>“We made a lot less mistakes than Parramatta and made a lot of metres up the middle, so that all goes hand in hand, I guess.<br><br>“If we hold the ball we’re a completely different side to the one everyone saw at the start of the year.”