George William Smith (New Zealand)
George William Smith (20 September 1874 – 7 December 1954) was a New Zealand sportsman who excelled at track and field as well as both codes of rugby football.
Smith was born in Auckland and educated at Wellesley Street School.
As a track athlete, Smith was an outstanding sprinter and hurdler, winning 14 national championships between 1898 and 1904 (100 yards sprint and 440 yards hurdles five times each and the 120 yards hurdles four times), as well as multiple Australasian championships and the 1902 British AAA quarter-mile hurdles, in which event he had an unofficial world record of 58.5s. While in Britain in 1902 Manningham F.C. tried to sign Smith to play rugby league. Smith turned down the £100 contract.
Smith began his rugby career in 1895 playing rugby union for the City Rugby Club in Auckland. He first represented his home province Auckland in 1896 and, in the following year made, his debut for the New Zealand national team against New South Wales. However, in the following years, Smith played little rugby, instead preferring to concentrate on track. He made a come back in 1901, gaining All Black selection, before disappearing again until he was enticed back to the game with the prospect of joining the 'Originals' tour to the British Isles and France in 1905.
During the Originals tour, Smith was one of the outstanding players, especially in the early part of the tour, playing in 19 games, including the internationals against Scotland and Ireland, and scoring 19 tries. It was during this time in Britain that he first saw rugby league.
Altogether, Smith made 39 appearances for New Zealand in rugby union, 21 as a wing and 18 at centre, and scored 34 tries.
On his way home, he met an Australian entrepreneur, James Giltinan to discuss the potential of professional rugby in Australasia. Smith is reported to have told Giltinan "What about you gettings Rugby League going in Australia, and I'll do my best when I cross the Tasman home." He then met Albert Baskiville in Wellington and played a leading part in the formation of the professional 1907-1908 New Zealand rugby tour of Great Britain, helping to select the touring party. At the time Smith was probably the best known athlete in New Zealand and his involvement in the tour lent it credibility and increased its ability to attract players. Smith was elected vice-captain and the tour was a success, both financially and on the field, with the team winning its three match series against Great Britain. Smith later described the tour as the happiest one he had ever been associated with.
After touring with the professional All Blacks he stayed on in Britain to play professionally with the Oldham club, signing a £150 contract. This gave Smith the financial freedom he had been seeking and he bought his fiance over from New Zealand to join him in Oldham. By 1912 Smith had moved into the forwards and played at second row. Smith played for the club until 1916 when a broken leg ended his career.
Smith then joined a textile firm but in 1932 returned to rugby league, being involved in the Oldham coaching staff for three years. He often met touring New Zealand League and All Blacks sides.
He lived in Oldham until his death on 7 December 1954.
His son, George Smith, played both rugby codes and died in a Japanese prisoner camp in 1943.
- McMillan, N. A. C. 'Smith, George William 1874 - 1954'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 7 April 2006
- S Player Statistics Oldham Heritage Trust, Accessed 13 August 2009