Tributes paid to a 'class act'

TRIBUTES have been paid to former Wakefield Trinity centre Keith Smith, who died last Friday (June 2) after a short illness at the age of 53, writes Leon Wobschall.

The stylish three-quarter was a classy cog of the side that thrilled supporters on a never-to-be-forgotten road to Wembley in 1979, where Trinity lost 12-3 to Widnes in the Challenge Cup final in front of 94,000 - with his full repertoire of skills shining through in the dramatic semi-final win over St Helens.

Smith's consummate skills reflected those of a player who played in both codes of rugby - he appeared for England at both union and league level - with the former Roundhay and Moortown RUFC amateur switching codes to turn professional with Trinity in 1977-78.

While supplying guile in the Trinity backline, Smith - a Wakefield fan as a boy - was also an accomplished goalkicker and really came into his own at Belle Vue in the 1978/79 campaign which culminated in an appearance at Wembley after Bill Kirkbride's troops booked a place in the showpiece final for the first time in 11 years.

Smith's finest hour came in the last four clash with Saints on April 7, 1979, with the dual-coder combining with skipper David Topliss to send Andy Fletcher over for the winning score in the final minutes of a pulsating encounter.

His golden campaign also saw him make his sole appearance for the England RL side in their 15-7 win over Wales in 1979, where he was among the try-scorers.

Topliss - Lance Todd winner in the 1979 final - said: "Keith was one of the classiest footballers I ever played with and I played with a lot of players over the years.

"He oozed class and you don't get to be a dual international for nothing.

"He was a hell of a player - I wouldn't say he was the fastest in the world, but he just had that smooth-running style that enabled him to evade players and he was also a very good goalkicker."

He added: "I'll always remember in the semi-final against St Helens when Saints scored with three minutes to go. I said to Keith to come with me up the field, hoping that he'd do something special and I made a half-break and gave him the ball and he passed to Andy Fletcher and we were at Wembley.

"That was the type of player he was. He could pull out something out of nothing."

The former Trinity coach added: "Keith will be sadly missed. He was a lovely lad who was very popular. He went quietly about his business, but was well liked by the players."

Along with his exploits in league, Smith played for the Barbarians and four times for the England rugby union side in the old Five Nations in the mid-70s, helping them to a famous 16-12 win over all-conquering Wales at Twickenham in March 1974, alongside the likes of Roger Uttley, Steve Smith, Dusty Hare and skipper John Pullin.

Wildcats chief executive Steve Ferres added: "Keith was a quality player with international pedigree. I actually appeared in a goalkicking competition with him once at Bradford and also played against him.

"He was a very, very skilful centre who had good hands and good vision and I was very shocked to hear of his death."

Keith leaves a wife, Diane, two step-children - Craig and Gemma - and five grand-children.

The funeral takes place today (Friday) at Lawnswood Crematorium at 9.40am.

A minutes silence in memory of Smith and fellow recently-departed Trinity players Peter Harrison and Dennis Baddeley will be held before Sunday's game with Salford City Reds at Belle Vue.