It’s little wonder that Jason Smith is still regarded as one of the best players to ever represent Hull FC in the Super League.

The loose-forward was playing the game at the highest level with Queensland and Australia before he decided to swap the sunshine of Sydney for the Boulevard and the Super League in 2001.

He was at the peak of his powers, terrorising NRL defenders in a Parramatta Eels jersey and winning stardom for his performances in the State of Origin with the Kangaroos, even winning the Australian Sports Medal for his contributions for his country.

But, the opportunity for an adventure on the other side of the world proved too much for Smith to turn down. He went on to spend four seasons with FC, split evenly between the Boulevard and the KCOM Stadium before leaving to join Canberra Raiders at the end of the 2004 campaign.

Sixteen seasons have passed since his departure, but that iconic image of a battered Smith with claret splashed across his black and white jersey is still fresh in the mind of every Hull fan old enough to remember watching him grace the Super League.

“Probably my first two years over in the Super League, especially my first year, that was probably one of my best three seasons that I’ve ever played,” Smith told Hull Live when asked if he believed he produced his best rugby in a Hull shirt.

“I played for Australia in 2000 in the ANZAC Test and they had a World Cup that year, they said they wouldn’t pick me because I had signed in the Super League.

“Then in 2002 I played pretty well, I got a little injury towards the end of the year and my last two years were just unfortunate with misdiagnosed injuries. I had a fractured scapula for ages and I ended up having a shoulder reconstruction when I didn’t need it.”

In fact, such were Smith’s performances in his first season with the Black and Whites, he was asked by Wayne Bennett to feature for Queensland in 2001, alongside Warrington’s Allen Langer, despite previously being led to believe his representative career was over.  

“They turned their back on me when I signed over there,” Smith added. “That was one of the stipulations they said if you play over there.

Jason Smith and Danny Moore of the Maroons hold aloft the winners trophy after winning game three of the ARL State of Origin match in 1995
Jason Smith and Danny Moore of the Maroons hold aloft the winners trophy after winning game three of the ARL State of Origin match in 1995

“I had another journey in my life and I enjoyed it. I never turned my back on Australia or Queensland.

“I know Alfie went back, Wayne Bennett wanted me to go back as well in about 2001 or 2002 and I could understand the club’s position, Shane and Shaun McRae didn’t want me to leave because we had two tough games against Bradford and St Helens and they were paying my bills, the QRL weren’t.

“I would have loved to go back and in hindsight it would have been a great thing to do because we lost those two games and Queensland went on to win that series and Alfie was a legend. It would have been good to go the other way but I understood Hull’s position.”

Smith stepped into a Hull side that was already brimming with Australian talent with the likes of David Maiden, Luke Felsch, Deon Bird and Adam Maher being led by Tony Grimaldi, but there was also a strong faction of young players emerging on the scene, too.

The addition of Smith only helped their development in the side and many credit the now 48-year-old for helping the likes of Paul Cooke and Richard Horne go onto fulfil their potential in the Super League with the Black and Whites.

“The side was building and when I went there we were lucky enough to get Graham Mackay, Richie Barnett and Richard Swain, Adam Maher, Sean Ryan and Craig Greenhill,” he added.

“The standard improved. We had real quality players and we has so many good players coming through like Paul King, Richard Horne and Cooke and Graeme Horne the list kept going.

Former Hull FC skipper Jason Smith
Former Hull FC skipper Jason Smith

“I remember Lasty, Yeamo and Horne, they were all scared to talk to me, I felt like an alien because I think they were in awe a little bit but that’s what the NRL and playing for Australia meant.

“They realised I was just a normal human being and that we had to work hard and play together and we had a great year that first year. Nobody predicted that at the start of the year.”

Smith would go on to help the club to finish third in the Super League in 2001 but narrow losses to Wigan and St Helens, with Smith coming off injured before half-time in the former, spelt the end of their season.

But, despite his strong first season in the irregular hoops, he remembers pulling on a Hull shirt ahead of his first outing in pre-season vividly.

“I had never seen snow before,” he laughed. “I will never forget the first game was a trial match in 2001 against Bradford at the Boulevard and I woke up in the morning and I could hear something hitting the window.

“I pulled the curtains apart and it was snowing, you’d call it sleet over there but it was snow to me. I was hoping they’d call the game off because it was freezing!

“From what I remember the ground was half frozen and they had to delay the game. That was my first experience at the Boulevard.

“Then we had to play our first Challenge Cup game away to Keighley and I think Tony Smith got sent off early on in the game and we had to play with 12 men. It was like a mud bath, it was a dreadful field, dreadful weather and I thought what the hell have I got myself into!”

It came as little surprise to see Smith being named club captain after the departure of Grimaldi at the end of 2001 and while he had rejected the role previously in his career, he accepted the chance to lead Shaun McRae’s side without hesitation.

“When Grimmo left Bomber asked me and I was proud as punch. It was probably the proudest day of my life,” he said.

Jason Smith, far left, at the 2003 Super League launch
Jason Smith, far left, at the 2003 Super League launch

“I never thought of myself as a captain but at Parramatta they asked me to be a captain in 2000 and I didn’t really want to do it, I didn’t think I wanted it at the time.

“To lead a club that has so much history, the NRL doesn’t have the history that the Super League does and to lead such a well-known side but also with so many young kids, I really thrived on that.

“I had the opportunity to lead Richard Horne and Kirk Yeaman and they went on to be superstars and Gareth Raynor and Carvell.”

Unfortunately, despite spending four seasons with the Black and Whites, his time at the club ended empty-handed, but he rightly recognises that he was part of the building process at the KCOM Stadium with the club going on to have success in 2005.

“We should have won silverware along the way from when I first went there in 2001, I reckon 2003, 2004, we should have won silverware,” he said.

“We were probably a bit unlucky, personally myself I was getting misdiagnosed with injuries. It was unfortunate, I’ve said I should have won three Grand Finals at Parramatta and while I was at Hull I should have won the Challenge Cup and got deeper into the finals than we did. We were unfortunate with injuries and whatnot.

“I understood that I was part of the building process and I felt proud. Even though I didn’t win silverware, I felt proud to know I was part of the building process for them to win the Challenge Cup in 2005 and be a force in the finals every year.

“They’re an established side now and when I first went there they were maybe a bottom or middle of the ladder side just out of the five. It was a building process and in 2005 they had the side to go on and win the Cup.”

Hull FC fans will always hold Smith close to their heart and Smith will always have a soft spot for East Yorkshire, too: “I loved it there that’s all I can say, my two oldest children were born there. I loved the whole experience, I got to travel and see different parts of the world that I never would have thought I would see. I had relationships with genuine people in Hull, genuine teammates and I loved every single part of it.”