Well-travelled Rooster ready to take flight
A three-hour flight to Auckland to make your club debut might seem like a long time, but for Roosters rookie Chris Smith, it's all part of his rugby league journey.
Growing up in Darwin meant long bus trips with his teammates to venues across the Northern Territory, and that trend has continued in Sydney.
Smith makes the daily commute to Roosters headquarters by train; the former Panther explaining that the express trip from Penrith to Central beats getting stuck in traffic on the M4.
Then there's the near two-hour drive to Wyong for his home games in the Intrust Super Premiership; another trip he's happy to make.
Smith isn't the only NRL player to have grown up in the Top End with Will Chambers (Gove), Luke Kelly (Katherine) and Joel Romelo (Darwin) all hailing from up north, and it's that experience he credits for helping kick-start his journey to the NRL.
"I started playing rugby league back in Darwin when I was about seven and played all my juniors there," Smith told NRL.com ahead of his first game for the Roosters.
"I played for the Nightcliff Dragons up there. There were only about six or seven teams up there and the furthest I travelled was about three hours.
"It was your typical country footy. It was all about bashing blokes with just a little bit of skill. It's not like down here.
"It was a bit of a surprise when I came down to Sydney just how fast it was and how much skill the guys had."
Having starred in the local comps back home, Smith was recruited by the Panthers and rose through the grades before being rewarded with his NRL debut in Round 26 last year against the Newcastle Knights.
Despite his lack of first-grade experience, Smith racked up huge numbers off the bench with 107 metres and 13 tackles from just 26 minutes of action.
"Just before I was 18 I got scouted by the Panthers and moved down for a trial to play in their SG Ball side," he continued.
"I ended up making that team and had an alright year so I played a couple of years for their 20s team. I played some NSW Cup and then made my NRL debut at the end of last year.
"I got that taste and experience last year, and just the feeling of running out in front of all the fans made me want it more.
"Getting the chance to do that again this weekend will give me that spark and hopefully I can carry that momentum and get a few more games under my belt."
Playing for the Roosters was something he never thought possible, but with a glut of talent in the forwards at Penrith, Smith decided it was time to make the move.
The 22-year-old was released from his contract in early April and took up a two-year deal with the Tricolours that will see him stay in Bondi until the end of 2017.
"There was a bit of a logjam over there so I came over to the Roosters this year," Smith said.
"My manager said there was an opportunity here with all the injuries they’ve had so I made the decision to move here."
Having been named 18th man a number of times for the Roosters this year, Smith will finally get his chance from the interchange bench on Sunday afternoon against the Warriors.
Capable of playing in the back row or in the centres, Smith said he would leave it up to coach Trent Robinson to decide what his role should be in a crucial game across the Tasman.
"Playing in Auckland is something I never thought I'd do in the NRL," he said.
"It's definitely going to be a challenge, but wherever 'Robbo' wants to put me I'll just go out there and rip in.
"I want to carry on my form this year and then have a good pre-season leading into 2017 and hopefully try to cement a spot in the side next year."
Playing for the Roosters isn't his only goal, with Smith telling NRL.com that he'd love to represent the Indigenous All Stars next year if given the opportunity.
"If I can ruck up a few more games for the Roosters and make an impression then it'd be a huge hour to represent the Indigenous All Stars team," he said.
"I know a few fellas that have played previously and it would mean a lot if I could represent my people as well."