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England and Wigan star Morgan Smithies will join Canberra on a three-year deal

There is plenty of Paphos in this story of Canberra’s newest signing, the 22-year-old Wigan forward who once made 72 tackles in a game.

No, not the evocation of pity and sympathy. That’s pathos.

The party town in Cyprus: Paphos.

“I had my mate’s wedding in Paphos for a week,” Morgan Smithies, who has just been added to Shaun Wane’s England squad for the final Test against Tonga, tells while in camp in Leeds.

“It was Brad Singleton, who I used to play at Wigan with. Waney rang me and said he wants me to come into camp so from holiday I ended up coming in.

“It was Mad Monday and then it was straight into that so once I got the phone call from Waney I chilled a bit, got off the beers and started doing a bit more running.”

This is important beyond what would be a second England cap for the hard-as-nails youngster. It’s why the man described as “the new Elliott Whitehead” is in line to play in the old Elliott Whitehead’s final Test this weekend instead of perhaps staying in his spare room while he’s away.

A long hot summer in the Australian sun awaits but no-one in England has any pity or sympathy for the talented forward.

Take Wane, for instance. Asked this week whether Smithies would make an impression in the NRL, the coach – also on staff at Wigan – answered: “He’ll need to improve on certain areas to make a strong mark over there”.

Wane went on to predict Smithies would ultimately succeed, but it was far from a glowing endorsement from the international coach.

Morgan Smithies will join the Canberra Raiders in 2024.
Morgan Smithies will join the Canberra Raiders in 2024.

“I probably agree with him, to be fair,” Smithies said. “I’m only 22, I’m still learning. 

“I always want to improve but I know my defence is good. This year especially I’ve tried to improve my attack, I’ve tried to improve my ball-playing, knowing when to run, knowing when to pass.

“It’s a big pre-season for me going over to the NRL and I’ll be working hard. My attack, I’ve got to keep working on and put a bit of size on as well. There’s some big bodies in the NRL.

“As a person it’s massive. It takes me out of my comfort zone and as a person I can only improve and as a player as well. I’ll be playing with world class players week-in and week-out. I’ll have to be on my toes at all times.”

A keen South Sydney supporter in his teens (due to a certain set of brothers also from Yorkshire), the newest Raider admits he did not expect to head Down Under so soon into his career.

“Initially I wasn’t too fussed at going, at my age, yet," Smithies recounts. "I had ambitions to go later on but once a bit of interest came, it was something I really wanted to do.

“I always thought I’d go over mid-twenties but these opportunities don’t come around too often and I just felt it was one I had to take.”

England v Mate Ma'a Tonga - Game 2

England captain George Williams knows a thing or two about Canberra, and about Smithies.

“I think he’ll go well out there because he just does all the little jobs that no-one else wants to do, so I’m looking forward to watching him,” the halfback says.

Unfortunately, it was all a bit hush-hush when Smithies could have asked Williams about the charms of the ACT. He did eventually get the chance to speak to his would-be teammates at Headingley this weekend, though: Whitehead and John Bateman.

“I’ll be honest, I’ve heard mixed reviews,” Smithies says when asked what he knows about Australia’s capital city.

“I think it’s a bit quiet, isn’t it? I’m not too bothered about that stuff. I’m going over to play rugby. It’s not a holiday.”

The opposite of pathos is cynicism. The opposite of Paphos? Maybe it’s Canberra.

Acknowledgement of Country

Canberra Raiders respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.