They returned to Kitchener Park this season as a package deal – a halfback built like a forward who shreds defensive lines with explosive blunt-force trauma, and a five-eighth whose kicking game is surgical.
In cousins Hayden and David “DJ” Smith, Gunnedah has two of the competition’s most dangerous players.
It was the cousins, back in town after playing for Greta Branxton in Group 21 last year, who were instrumental in igniting the Bulldogs’ season with an upset 44-16 home defeat of North Tamworth on Saturday.
A week after Bulldogs coach Sean Hayne bemoaned the side’s lethargy, the Smiths help provide the spark the mentor had desired.
Now a lock, 21-year-old Hayden, who has scored 10 tries this season, was named man of the match. He sits one point behind North Tamworth’s Scott Blanch on the best-and-fairest table.
Against the Bears, DJ, 23, laid on two grubber kicks and a cross-field kick leading to three first-half tries by fullback Dylan Lake, and then provided the chip that led to a crucial Nic Altmann second-half try.
Chasing their first premiership since 1998, Gunnedah will look to keep that momentum going against winless Boggabri at Jubilee Oval on Saturday, in the third-last round before the finals.
The Bulldogs are four points and two points behind first-placed Kootingal-Moonbi and second-placed Norths.
Hayden and DJ flagged Gunnedah’s home clash against Kooty on Saturday week as being key to the side’s premiership aspirations. “That will be a huge game for us,” said Hayden, who played halfback at Greta Branxton. DJ played five-eighth.
Hayden said the win over Norths, Gunnedah’s first over the reigning four-time premiers in a long time, could be a season “turning point” for the Bulldogs. “That performance has given us confidence,” he said.
DJ said he arrived at pre-season training ahead of this season “pretty unfit” after a shoulder injury sidelined him for a large chuck of last season.
“I wanted to come back with my younger cousin … come back to where I started playing footy,” he said.
North West Farm Machinery AGCO best-and-fairest table (unofficial, compiled by Geoff Newling):
12: Scott Blanch (North Tamworth).
11: Hayden Smith (Gunnedah).
10: Brodie Sowter (Kootingal).
9: Fraser Evans (Dungowan).
7: Jake McManus (NT), Dylan Lake (G), Mitch Doring (K).
6: Kyle Cochrane (K), Kialu Brown (Boggabri), Shaun Ferguson (D).
5: David Smith (G), Jay Urquhart (Bogg), Brenton Cochrane, Daniel Jobson (Narrabri), Scott Berry, Thomas Brown, Cody Tickle (Werris Creek), Ryan Martin, Sam Taylor (K).
4: Phil Beaton (K), KC Edmonds, Callum Hayne (G), Dwight Millgate (WC), Les Boney (N).
3: Kieran Williams (WC), Matt Brady (G), Nathan Maguire, Dylan Manicaros (D), James Cooper (NT), Kieran Fisher, Tristram Morris (NT), Damien Gleeson (N).
2: Mitch Campbell, Nathan Miller (Bogg), Jason Smith (G), Lochie Collins, Matt Wilson (D), Jeff Harvey, Jacob Nichols (N).
1: Jamie Bailey, Harlee Milgate (WC), Ben Haire (Bogg), Joel Hogan, Brady Jenkins (N), Ethan Collins, Corey Manicaros (D), Ben Gardner, Lincon Smith (G), Chris Hunt (NT), Jordan Sharpe, Nic Zahra (K).