After a career that has seen him play Rugby professionally in Australia, France and Japan, as well as play in the NRL with the Sydney Roosters, it should come as no surprise that Tyrone Smith is still having a run around with Manly in the Shute Shield despite retiring from professional footy three years ago.
Smith, a dynamic centre who played four seasons with the Brumbies and toured Europe with the Wallabies, is also giving back to the game as a Coach, and starred for the Classic Wallabies on their Hong Kong tour earlier this year.
The younger brother of evergreen Reds flanker George, Tyrone appeared destined for a long career in the fifteen-a-side game when he was selected in the 2001 Australian Schoolboys team, alongside fellow future professionals Fotu Auelua, Rodney Blake, Richard Brown, Mitchell Chapman, Luke Holmes, Hugh McMeniman, Drew Mitchell and Josh Valentine.
Instead, however, Tyrone’s career as a professional athlete started in Rugby League, thanks to a phone call from a fellow code convert and St. Edmund’s College graduate in Ricky Stuart (1984 team).
“As I was growing up, I wasn’t doing too well at school and wasn’t attending too often,” Tyrone tells RUPA. “I went to four different schools but things just weren’t working out for me with school, so my Dad surprised me and took me out of Sydney and down to try out for the ACT Under 19’s.
“I was seventeen at the time and wasn’t at school, but I ended up making that side (alongside Matt Giteau), and then the Australian Schoolboys Head Coach ended up convincing me to go to his school (St. Edmund’s) and finish year 12.
“I was chosen in the Schoolboys, but then having played both Rugby and league all my life I got a phone call from Ricky Stuart who was offering me a chance to head back to Sydney and start a full-time contract at the Roosters.
“He made it sound appealing for me, and I ended up spending three years there and winning a Jersey Flegg Cup before I got a chance to move overseas and play for the London Broncos with Tony Rea.
“That was a great transition for me, because I felt like it gave me another chance to prove myself at a higher level. In the Super League I felt like I had a new lease on life and had another chance to prove myself, and I had three enjoyable years there. During that time, I also played international Rugby League for Tonga, which was really special to me because it is where my mother was born, before I decided that the time was right to try playing Rugby professionally with the Brumbies.”
By the time Tyrone joined the Brumbies in 2008, older brother George had already played nearly 100 Super Rugby games and was a star for the Wallabies; it was just the incentive Tyrone needed to make the switch.
“That chance to go to the Brumbies and play alongside my brother was massive for me,” Tyrone says. “As soon as I got there, I trained as hard as I could to make that transition as seamless as possible. That hard work, and the good coaching that I got there, led to me playing some really good footy at the Brumbies and getting the chance to go on the Spring Tour with the Wallabies.”
Unlike these days, the Spring Tours to Europe a decade ago featured a number of mid-week matches against top provincial teams, so while Tyrone didn’t get the opportunity to play Test match footy he did get to wear the Australian jersey.
“I felt that I missed an opportunity in getting so close and being told that you aren’t so far off playing your first Test, but then not getting a chance to play. In saying that, it (playing for Australia) was something that was still so special to me.
“Putting on that Aussie jersey and singing the National anthem was really, really special to me, especially having my brother on tour with me. We ended up swapping jerseys, but I still came back with one of my jerseys. Getting to play those two games is something that I really cherished and it’s something that will forever be really be memorable in my mind. I think it’s good for players to get a chance to play for their country and play other local teams from other countries, and to get a couple of warm up games in before they debut.”
At the end of the 2011 Super Rugby season, Tyrone got itchy feet to try something new and heading to Japan to play for Honda Heat before playing his final two professional seasons in Narbonne, France.
“Getting the chance to play in Japan was something that I’d always wanted to do and living in Suzuka and playing for Honda was a truly awesome experience.
“I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn about Japanese traditions and how they live their life, and just being able to live in a different country where not many people spoke the language and you had to take a translator with you to all of your appointments. You’re really forced to put yourself out there and learn about the culture and try to learn the language as best you can, and I really loved my time in Japan.
“From there we moved to France, and the lifestyle in Narbonne was amazing. We had lots of Australian players, good mates of mine like Josh Valentine and Huia Edmonds, and Justin Harrison was our Coach. I had a young family then, and I think that the lifestyle in France was a great lifestyle to play Rugby.”
Although he’s nearly 35 years of age, Tyrone is loving the opportunity to return to his roots and play for Manly. As he tells RUPA, you’re a long time retired, and he admits that it’s not hard to see some nearby inspiration to keep playing.
“I could see my brother still out there, still playing Super Rugby at 37, and it made me feel like I wanted to be back out there playing. I have two young boys who have started playing Rugby, and I wanted to take the chance to get back out there and show my boys that Dad was able to do some stuff on the field!
“I also got to go away with the Classic Wallabies and play in the Hong Kong 10s, which brought back a lot of memories of being back in camp and gave me the chance to spend time with a lot of guys I used to play with. It was an experience that I won’t forget, and it was awesome just to get back out there and re-connect with people I hadn’t seen for a couple of years.”
Smith realised how much he loved coaching when he was working with his sons, and after a few conversations with the parents at their school realised that not many kids in the Northern Beaches were playing Rugby. That was all the encouragement he needed to start Base Rugby, while he also runs the Rugby program from Kindergarten to Year 6 at Sydney Grammar School in St. Ives.
“I got into coaching, and came up with the models for the holiday camps, purely because I wanted to get more kids playing Rugby,” he says. “Not many kids play Rugby in this area, they all tend to play soccer or league, so we run Holiday Camps and also clinics within schools in the area. It’s about building the grassroots of Rugby and trying to get more kids playing and learning about the game that I love playing.
“I love being able to teach young kids not only about the fundamentals of the game, but also the fun aspects of Rugby, and all of the things that it can teach you such as confidence, resilience, fun and teamwork. Rugby has given me so much, and I feel like I’m more passionate about it now, being able to teach my kids and their friends about the game.”
Base Rugby clinics are open to all comers, with no contact for those aged between five and eight years old. The focus is on the fun side of Rugby, and making it as safe as possible for kids by showing them all the right techniques, including how to tackle. Tyrone still has limited spots available for his July school holiday camps, including a first-ever Camp just for Girls; for more details and to book, head to the website or call Tyrone directly on +61 400 880 361.