Indigenous Sport Month: Eels star Will Smith opens up on why he feels so strongly about his identity

WillSmith is a quintessential rugby league success story.

After making his debut with Penrith in 2014, where he played a vital role in the club’s finals run, the proud Anawain and Gumbaynggirr man suffered a serious knee injury that threatened to end his career.

But Smith fought his way back and the talented utility has been a fixture at Parramatta over the past four years. He leads the way with the club’s links to the Indigenous community, including helping design their playing strip for the 2021 NRL Indigenous Round.

Watch The 2021 NRL Telstra Premiership Live & On-Demand with No Ad-Breaks During Play. New to Kayo? Try 14-Days Free Now >

Bevan French and Will Smith show off the Eels jerseys for Indigenous Round.Source:News Corp Australia

My Indigenous heritage … means a lot to me because it makes me proud. I feel strong with my identity, knowing who I am, it makes me feel connected. I know where I come from and that makes me feel strong about myself. I’m not sure if it’s really a custom, but I like how we’re taught at an early age to have so much respect to our elders. Even if someone isn’t your blood auntie or uncle, you always say ‘hello Auntie’ or ‘hello Uncle’, just out of respect. I like we’re taught that, because it’s something we can pass through to our own kids. I like people to respect me, just like I respect other people, it’s a good feeling.

My earliest memory … is playing one of my first footy games and I was chasing a kid. I dove for his legs and his stud kicked me in the face and I think I ran off crying, telling my dad I had a stud in my eye and being all dramatic.

One piece of advice I would give my teenage self would be … when I left school pretty early, so it’d probably be to stay in school and finish. I was in Year 9 and I was so focused on footy that’s all I was worried about, it was my main priority. Even when I was at school, I wasn’t really there. Footy was my only interest. But the best advice I was ever given was ‘Look out for number one’. That applied to me if I was going out partying with my cousins and there was a bit of trouble or something like that, to stay out of it and look after myself. My old man told me that.

Will Smith has been with the Eels for four seasons.Source:Supplied

If I wasn’t in sport, I would be … a youth worker, I’m doing a diploma in it right now and I’m very interested in helping Indigenous youth. We go out and do visits here and there at some schools or rural areas out west with my manager and a few other boys like Ash Taylor and Tyrone Roberts. We go out there to see the kids because they don’t really have access to NRL players very often. Getting out there and spending time with them, learning about how they spend their days, it’s really great. It’s an awesome feeling, to put a smile on their face like that. I remember when I was a kid and NRL players would come to my school, or out in the public, and how starstruck I was. It’s really rewarding to give that back. I’ve been out to Dubbo, Wellington, out towards Walgett, Lake Cargelligo, all over the place, usually around NAIDOC Week. We get Shannon Noll out there to perform as well.

Family means …the world to me. I wouldn’t be who I am without my parents, my grandparents, my partner and my kids. Both my parents are Indigenous, but I haven’t really reached into my mother’s background. Her mother passed away a few years ago and she never really knew her father, but it’s really strong on my dad’s side, I’m learning a lot from him and my grandfather.

The only weird, superstitious thing … I do game days is put my left sock on before my right and my right boot before my left. I just feel weird if I don’t do it, I don’t know why.

Will Smith takes on the Broncos defence in Darwin earlier this season.Source:News Corp Australia

My sporting hero … is my father, Eddie. I followed him around when he was playing, growing up I wouldn’t have been as into footy if it wasn’t for him. I didn’t really have any NRL players who were my idols growing up, I just loved watching my dad play.

My most significant sporting moment … was playing in the Koori Knockout with my dad. It was in 2010, I was 16, and I’ve won a Knockout since and that means a lot to our people. But playing with my dad goes on top of that, he was in his his 40s, he retired at 45. He was playing all over the local league in Newcastle, he finished up in Singleton but he played everywhere. It means a lot, the Knockout, it’s a big gathering for our whole culture. For that one weekend a year families get the see each other, towns come together and, if anyone has any differences through the year, that gets put aside to support their town and their community. We all play to win, but we sort out our differences when we come together for that weekend no matter what’s happened between anyone. With the playing side of it, I don’t think we’d be NRL players if it weren’t for our brothers and older cousins, and they’re the ones we go back and play with. Playing footy in the backyard or playing touch out on the road, that’s where our love for the game started.

Fox Sports News’ Jake Duke interviews proud Indigenous Matildas player Kyah Simon, who’s the ambassador of News Corp’s Indigenous Sport Month….

Fox Sports News’ Jake Duke interviews proud Indigenous Matildas player Kyah Simon, who’s the ambassador of News Corp’s Indigenous Sport Month.

I love being an Indigenous athlete … as an Indigenous NRL player going back to our communities, seeing those young kids get starstruck like I used to – I remember seeing someone like Brad Tighe, who I know really well now, come to our school. It’s an awesome feeling, being an Indigenous NRL player and bringing that to other people. We can be really positive role models for any kid, regardless if they’re troubled or on the right path. I think we have a responsibility to show them the right way to go about things, how to carry themselves with respect.

To improve support networks for Indigenous athletes coming through, every club should have an Indigenous liaison officer, and there should be a Polynesian one as well, someone they’re comfortable to go and talk to. I’m comfortable enough to talk to anyone, doesn’t matter what their background is, but say an Indigenous kid comes from out west and doesn’t know anybody, I know it would be easier for him to open up to somebody from a similar background.

Will Smith grabs a four-pointer for the Eels.Source:Getty Images

In terms of career highlights… playing in the finals was an awesome experience, but one I hold closest is after I did my ACL at Penrith, when I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it back, and debuting the next year at Parramatta was a special moment. I beat any demons I had in my head, and I found out I was mentally stronger than I thought I was. I did everything you can do to your knee in one injury, I was off-contract and there were some physios who said I couldn’t play at the top level again. To prove people wrong and myself right, it was very rewarding.

My dad put me on my pathway …he never forced me to train hard but I always saw how he was working away from footy and looking after himself, he was up at 5am every morning going for runs. I used to get up and go with him when I was little, and that instilled something in me that makes me want to do that as well.

My family is my inspiration… I just want to make sure I do them proud, I’m the only one down in Sydney and they’re all back in Newcastle. All I want to do it make them proud.

The key priority to improve player and leadership opportunities for the next generation of Indigenous athletes… is setting up pathways for Indigenous kids, especially kids out west who don’t have much of an opportunity or don’t get seen by too many scouts.

Originally published as‘We have a responsibility to show Indigenous kids the right way’

Source: Read Full Article