Kalyn Ponga came to the Newcastle Knights in 2018 as an unproven commodity.
Greg Smith’s journey to the NRL is perhaps the most interesting of anyone to play the game.
The American featured in a solitary game for the Newcastle Knights in 1999, which is considered to be the worst debut of any player and one of the all-time terrible NRL performances.
He had zero positional sense, dropped the ball several times and could barely make a tackle.
For years it was believed Smith had lied about having played in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles in order to hoodwink Newcastle Knights coach Warren Ryan.
Obvious concerns about fact-checking aside, it has since come to light that Smith was not entirely lying, despite his disastrous Round 3 debut against the Bulldogs.
On September 9, 2015, Smith completed an interesting interview with league legend Peter Sterling on Sterlo On the Couch, and finally revealed the full story behind the unfortunate debut.
In his younger years, he was an excellent track and field athlete in America, and eventually earned a scholarship to Western State University College. During his third year of university, NFL scouts tested the football team in agility and the 40-metre dash. Smith excelled, running 4.33 over the distance, and in the process was shortlisted by scouts.
In his final year of university, he received a free-agent trial contract with the Eagles.
100 athletes were invited to compete for a place in the final 53-man roster, in a similar fashion to Jarryd Hayne’s 49ers journey. With the 1996 pre-season coming to a close, Smith was surprised to have initially made it, but 48 hours later the Eagles decided to cut him, leaving his NFL dream in tatters.
He emerged in Sydney during the 1997 Rugby League World Sevens after receiving an invitation from a manager in America. He played three matches with the representative USA team and went on to play rugby league in the west Metropolitan competition.
Eventually, Ryan learnt of Smith’s existence and invited him to train with the Knights. According to Smith, he earned a contract during the final week of the pre-season.
His disastrous debut came after a number of injuries to outside backs, and while he didn’t give up on his rugby league dream, playing for Wests in reserve grade, he never played top-flight football again.
Smith remained in Australia, having met the woman who would eventually become his wife. Now 43, he has established himself as a successful athletics coach based in Western Sydney and recently worked with Angelina Jolie as the running coach for the film Unbroken.