As part of our series of articles on players aiming for a bounce-back year in 2021, Chris Kennedy profiles a Rooster who did not get to step on the field last year.
Young gun centre Billy Smith is the forgotten man of the Roosters' squad but will be targeting a big 2021 season – once he gets back into the team.
The highly-rated youngster is unlikely to be in the 17 for round one if the rest of the backline is healthy, but he has several paths into Trent Robinson's side.
With club stalwart Mitch Aubusson now retired, the 99kg goal-kicking centre or winger could provide useful bench cover.
This would be an even more appealing option for Robinson if 60-minute prop Siosiua Taukeiaho ends up with main goal-kicking duties as it would allow Smith to be on the field for the periods Taukeiaho is off.
Comfortable on the wing as well as in his preferred centre role, Smith covers injuries for the four starting players in the three-quarter line.
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Now 12 months on from his ACL injury, Smith is taking full part in the Roosters' pre-season and training strongly.
If he has a blazing off-season and aces the trials, the spot of veteran centre Josh Morris could even be under threat, though it is most likely the re-signed rep-star will be given first crack.
If Smith misses the 17 for round one, then another factor working in his favour – and in the favour of every NRL squad member not picked for round one – is the return of the Canterbury and Intrust Super Cups this year after they were cancelled last year due to the COVID pandemic.
This means Smith will be able to state his case every week beyond just doing his best at training.
Smith made his NRL debut in round 23 of 2019 at left centre for an injured Latrell Mitchell, running 144 metres, busting three tackles and scoring a try in a big win over the Dragons.
Mitchell returned the next week but Smith got another chance just a week later, on the wing for an injured Brett Morris.
He backed up his impressive debut with 172 metres, eight busts and another try in a 16-10 loss to the Rabbitohs. He also had his hair pulled by Souths veteran Sam Burgess in that game as he unwittingly got dragged into a slanging match he had no part in starting.
Welcome to the NRL, Billy Smith
With a breakout 2020 season in the offering taking over from the Bunnies-bound Mitchell, Smith instead tore his ACL at training over the off-season.
The Roosters picked up decorated representative centre Morris from the Sharks as a replacement, with the reunited Morris twins each enjoying superb seasons and earning contract extensions for 2021.
It means the Roosters on one side have one of the best centres in the game right now in Joey Manu, and one of the best of the modern era in the twilight of his career on the other in Morris.
While Smith may be the forgotten man to some extent among casual fans, there is no chance coach Trent Robinson has forgotten why Smith was originally Mitchell's heir apparent.
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Smith may be the forgotten man to some extent among casual fans but there is no chance Robinson has forgotten why Smith was originally Mitchell's heir apparent.
It will be on Smith to prove through the pre-season, or failing that when he inevitably gets a chance through injury at some point, to prove he can't be left out of the team any longer.
Twelve months on from that unfortunate ACL tear, expect the highly-rated 21-year-old to bounce back in 2021.