BEN Smith is eagerly waiting for Saturday evening’s NRL trial against Newcastle Knights in Armidale.
The hard pre-season training has been gut-busting and the 28-year-old backrower cannot wait for the games to start.
“I’m looking forward to playing footie,” said the tall utility who began his senior career playing for Werris Creek and Gunnedah first grade sides as a teenager in Group 4.
“It’s been a long pre-season. All the hard work has been done, now it’s good to be able to get out there and play.”
Smith went straight from school and playing under his older brother, Brad, to Sydney and the Eels.
Brad, who played backrow for St George before heading bush and starring with Gunnedah, West Lions and Warialda in the Group 4 and Group 19 competitions, is now retired.
“He’s working and living down at Mudgee,” Ben said.
He learnt plenty from his brother before he ventured to Sydney but has learnt a lot more from his decade or so with the Eels.
“I’m playing my 11th season with them,” he said.
“I started in the centres but moved into the forwards as I’ve got slower and fatter,” he laughed.
“It’s been great. I went straight down from school, played Jersey Flegg and reserve grade and played a couple of first grade games towards the back end of 2004.
“I had a few more reserve grade games in 2005 but played mostly first grade.
“It’s been great. The club has been very good to me and it’s good to think that I might be a one-club man.”
He’s played with some outstanding skippers, Nathan Cayless and Nathan Hindmarsh to name just two.
“There’s a good feeling here this year,” he said.
“Last year was disappointing in the way we finished.
“But we have a new coaching staff, have some new faces and some good young players. There’s a lot of improvement in us.
“There’s a lot of excitement here with the new coach (Ricky Stuart).
“He’s coached Australia and State Of Origin, has a lot of experience and has brought in some good coaches with him – Dean Pay and Matt Parrish.”
Look out Newcastle Knights – Saturday’s 5pm kickoff at Bellevue Oval could be an emotional charge from the Eels eager to utilise their tough training and last year’s disappointments to fire up a positive pre-season trial and launch a big season.
It’s a full week for the Parramatta Eels with not only their own coaching sessions but sessions with local juniors and at local schools.
Today some of the Eels head to Guyra for a 5pm session with the local juniors.
There are also educational talks at local schools and UNE deputy director of Student Services and Administration, Rhonde Leece, will also talk to the Eels about careers.
On Friday some of the Eels are booked in for a special indigenous literacy session at Minimabah as well as another indigenous session at the Armidale PCYC with the Armidale Police program.