MATTY Smith is hoping the footballing skills honed playing against Wayne Rooney can help boot Wigan towards a Grand Final tilt this season.
Recruited from Salford two weeks ago, the halfback missed out on Saturday’s Challenge Cup tie against Leeds because he was ineligible.
But he will now come back into the frame for Saturday’s trip to London as the club try and recover from their knock-out blow.
Smith, who debuted at hooker against Wakefield the previous week, is looking to kick on with his rugby league career – having been a promising footballer with Everton as a teen.
The St Helens-raised halfback told the Observer: “I got picked up by Everton and played there for three years there, and I really enjoyed that.
“Wayne Rooney was a year older than me. I trained with him on a Saturday, their age would train against our age and even then he was good.
“All the coaches were raving about him – and he wasn’t even a professional then – saying, ‘This is how Wayne Rooney does it.’ He’s only a year older than me but you could see then he was something special.
“Sadly, I got released by Everton and then that’s when I started playing rugby, so I only got into it late.
“The football has probably helped me on the rugby side with my kicking game.”
Smith enjoyed a rapid rise from the ranks, joining St Helens at 16 and debuting in their first team two years later.
But he found his career path blocked by the considerable presence of Sean Long, and after loan stints at Crusaders and then Salford – including a brief return to Saints for the 2010 Grand Final tilt – he joined the Reds on a permanent deal. His sparkling form for a struggling side saw him surface on Wigan’s radar as they searched for a replacement for NRL-bound Thomas Leuluai.
And when the Kiwi World Cup winner injured his knee last month, the Warriors decided to move now.
“It was pretty sudden really,” said the 24-year-old. “I spoke to Steve Simms at Salford and he said they wanted to accept a fee for me, they wanted the money, so he kind of made it easy for me.
“I was going to be at Wigan anyway for the next three years so I’ve just been given a head start.”Coach Shaun Wane hopes Smith’s early arrival will smooth the transition at the end of the season when Leuluai departs, and Smith says he is already working closely with the No.7.
“Even in the first few training sessions, he’s been there – with his big boot on (his injured leg), helping me and he’s been in the video sessions too, which is fantastic,” he continued.
“If I can learn from him, a World Cup winner and a great player, and Brett Finch too then from now to the end of the year then going into next year it’d be fantastic.
“Hopefully I can lead the team around next year and be successful myself.”
Smith is excited about facing the Broncos in the capital this Saturday afternoon and knows the seven-game charge to the play-offs includes home fixtures against his two former employers, Salford and St Helens.
Intriguigly, he revealed Saints – having allowed him to leave to join the Reds – were also keen to take him back next season, but he added: “I’ve no bitterness against Saints or anything like that. Everything happens for a reason – I’m at the biggest club in the league so I should probably thank them.”