FORMER LEEDS Rhinos captain Kevin Sinfield has paid tribute to his ex-academy team-mate Nick Smith, who died before Christmas aged just 38.
Smith – who was married with two young children – was diagnosed with motor neurone disease last year.
The second-row forward joined Leeds from Halifax amateur club Siddal as a teenager and played alongside Sinfield and current Rhinos star Jamie Jones-Buchanan in the 1998 academy Championship winning side.
Sinfield told Rhinos’ website: “Nick came to us on trial from Siddal and stayed all season as a fully fledged part of a very good championship-winning side that included a host of players who would go on to play professionally.
“As is often the case, players who don’t get a contract with the Rhinos from the academy are quickly sought after by other clubs and Nick moved to Sheffield where he played for a few years. It was to his credit that he then returned to his amateur club at Siddal and was part of everything that made that club so special. He was a nice lad and a great rugby player.” Sinfield attended Smith’s funeral, along with Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington. He added: “Our thoughts are with his family and everyone at Siddal at this very sad time. I only knew Nick for a short time, but he was a great man and will be sadly missed.”