Mr Smith not a generic choice for a new era

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NRL CEO Dave Smith - dragging rugby league into the future, kicking and screaming. (AAP Image/Damian Shaw)

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It all seems so obvious now. Why wouldn’t commission Chairman John Grant, a successful businessman in his own right, turn to a man cut from similar cloth to ensure rugby league doesn’t waste the biggest financial windfall the game has ever seen?

That man is ‘Aussie’ Dave Smith. Well, he’s Welsh really, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

In his last anonymous moments, in regards to recognition from sports fans, he sat in a room full of journalists, all frantically googling who exactly Dave was and what it is he’d done.

In regards to sport, he said he didn’t go to an NRL game last season and spent six months on a plane. Exactly where he was going and why it took six months to get there wasn’t made clear.

In regards to business, perhaps a slightly more relevant measure of his suitability for the role, he currently heads an international banking division spanning 10 countries and employing over 1500 staff.

Lloyds International saw fit to place around $50 billion worth of assets in his care. That is an extraordinary amount of money for anyone still wondering.

Rugby league never looked so small in comparison to those figures.

It wouldn’t matter if Dave, as he said he wanted to be known, had mistaken rugby league for netball on the television. It wasn’t why he was hired.

He’s a sports fan and an admirer of rugby league. That’s enough for now.

All that matters at this stage of rugby league’s life is that he meets at least two of the objectives set out in the ARLC’s five-year strategic plan released in late October.

The ARLC has made available $200m for investment in key projects and in the next five years they want central revenue to have doubled to more than $300m.

In other words, the game has finally positioned itself for an unprecedented period of growth financially while still possessing an ability to implement key infrastructure and they don’t want to mess it up.

Who better to choose than someone familiar with handling large sums of money?

Different levels of NRL management can handle fan and community engagement projects. Clubs can drive memberships and tend to their own backyard with a little bit of help from head office. But managing rugby league’s billion dollar baby was always going to take a different kind of character.

His biggest problem looks like being on the PR front.

Not being able to start until February 1st next year, after his commitments to his current employer end, is somewhat of a blow.

The game will be accused of being in limbo until his re-emergence at rugby league headquarters.

How a man with no previous experience in sports administration reacts to player misbehaviour is also one of the great unknowns.

John Grant has been the face of the game since the departure of David Gallop. Now, Grant insists, Smith will assume that role.

He’ll be the one on television, in print and on radio answering the tough questions.

Money might be spent in important and innovative ways, but if Smith can’t sell himself to the average fan, then the backlash over minor things tends to become major.

Yesterday, he couldn’t speak in much detail about his plans for the game, not wanting to appear unfocussed on his current role. Still, he handled the trickier moments with nifty footwork.

It was enough to get him past the introduction and back into the safety of familiar surrounds.

The real test will come throughout the grind of the 2013 season when players misbehave, officials make blunders and clubs find new ways to push the limits of the rule book.

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