Leeds Rhinos Nostalgia: Powerful winger Alan Smith was one of Leeds’ all-time greats

LEEDS HAVE been blessed with some great wingers over the years and one of their best is celebrating his 77th birthday today.
Leeds' Alan Smith at Headingley in 2018. Picture: Steve Riding.Leeds' Alan Smith at Headingley in 2018. Picture: Steve Riding.
Leeds' Alan Smith at Headingley in 2018. Picture: Steve Riding.

Australian Eric Harris’ 391 tries for Leeds from 1930-39 will probably never be beaten and more recently local product Ryan Hall has stood shoulder to shoulder with the best wingers in world rugby.

But between those two came the era of Alan Smith and John Atkinson who, during the club’s glory days of the 1960s and 70s, formed probably the club’s finest wing duo.

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Smith was born in Wakefield on February 8, 1944, played for the Brookhouse club in his home city and had trials with Trinity and Halifax before signing for Leeds.

Leeds winger Alan Smith.Leeds winger Alan Smith.
Leeds winger Alan Smith.

He made a sensational debut on August 29, 1962, when he ran in four tries in a 55-2 thrashing of Dewsbury at Headingley, but his Leeds career almost came to a shattering halt soon afterwards.

Within a month of his first appearance, Smith suffered a broken leg playing for Leeds’ ‘A’ team against Featherstone Rovers and it was another four years before he nailed down a regular place in the senior side.

Frustrated at limited opportunities, with Atkinson and Ron Cowan the established first choices, Smith was close to leaving the Loiners, but could not agree terms with Bramley following a four-week trial.

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That was fortunate for Leeds. Having returned to Headingley, he scored four tries in his first game back in the ‘A’ team and once coach Roy Francis had switched him from the left – to right-wing, with Atkinson on the other side, there was no looking back.

Alan Smith's wing partner John Atkinson.Alan Smith's wing partner John Atkinson.
Alan Smith's wing partner John Atkinson.

Over the next two decades Smith featured in 16 major finals and was on the losing side only three times.

While Atkinson was noted for spectacular long-range tries, Smith was more direct and terrorised defences close to the line.

Atkinson went round defenders and Smith through them, using raw power to force his way to the whitewash, often aided by a powerful hand-off.

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Also a fearless defender, his final appearance, against Widnes on April 10, 1983, was his 479th for the club, a total only six players have bettered.

Smith’s try on his swansong was the 283rd he scored for Leeds, surpassed by only fellow wingers Harris and Atkinson (340).

With Atkinson on the opposite flank, Smith was Leeds’ top try scorer just once – in 1974-75 when he crossed 30 times.

But in 1969-70 Leeds’ first-choice wingers scored 68 tries between them, with Atkinson bagging 36 and Smith 32.

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Smith scored a try in every round of the Yorkshire Cup, including the final, in 1968 and 1980, when his touchdown against Hull KR in the decider at Huddersfield took his career total to 300. He also won the county competition in 1970, 1972, 1975 and 1979.

Smith was a Wembley winner in 1968 – the famous Watersplash Challenge Cup final against Wakefield – and 1977.

He played in Leeds’ 1972 Championship triumph against St Helens, their last for 32 years and his other club honours were the Premiership in 1975 and 1979, BBC Floodlit Trophy in 1970-71 and JP Trophy in 1972-73.

Smith proved he was world class by scoring three tries in 10 Test or World Cup appearances for Great Britain and he was also capped once by England and five times for Yorkshire.

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