It has been a tumultuous start to his NRL career, his club is languishing at the bottom of the ladder and his coach has recently quit, but for youngster Nathan Smith, tonight’s clash with Melbourne shapes as the beginning of a bright future.
It’s a daunting prospect playing only his third NRL game without the added pressure of taking on competition leaders Melbourne Storm and opposite Australia and Queensland captain Cameron Smith, but the 24-year-old isn’t letting all this distract him from the job at hand.
He knows that a stand-out performance against the Melbourne hooker at Parramatta Stadium will be a career changing experience.
“I have to do a little bit of a job on him but I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Smith said.
“I’m pretty excited, I’ve watched a lot of video on him.”
A keen surfer that grew up in Scotts Head on the NSW north coast, Smith gave up life on the beach to join the Bulldogs where he won three NSW Cup Premierships in five seasons, but a hamstring injury robbed him the chance of making his NRL debut with the Canterbury-Bankstown club.
Parramatta threw him a lifeline at the beginning of the 2012 season and now back to full fitness and on a two-year contract, Smith says there is no place he’d rather be.
“I’ve learnt quite a lot this year,” he acknowledged.
“I think I’ve grown as a person and as a player and I love the atmosphere here.
“I’m very close with all the boys.”
Smith made an unexpected NRL debut when he was a late inclusion against defending premiers Manly Sea Eagles during Round 18 following a last minute withdrawal of incumbent hooker Matt Keating through injury.
For the Bowraville Tigers junior it was an opportunity that was a long time coming, but despite the unusual circumstances - Smith wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It was kind of good,” he said.
“I didn’t think about the game too much, I just went with the flow and I thought my performance was good.
“It hasn’t been too much, it’s been good.”