HE might fly under the radar but there’s no more popular figure or better teammate at the Joondalup City Wolves than Rhys Smyth and after a run of bad luck in three Grand Finals he is hoping it’s fourth time lucky on Saturday night as he tries to hit the floor in a championship triumph.
Smyth was there with the Wolves in 2011 when they won a first championship in 18 years but unfortunately for him he had injured his knee earlier in the playoffs and wasn’t able to get on the floor.
He then was there in 2013 for the loss and was off on a year-long honeymoon holiday around the world in 2015 when the Wolfpack broke through again.
Smyth was back in 2016 and again a key contributor off the bench for the team that made it to a second straight Grand Final but it wasn’t to be back-to-back championship as they came up short in the decider against the Cockburn Cougars.
That means that despite having been there for three Grand Finals and while he did receive a ring in 2011, he hasn’t yet been on the court in a championship victory coming into Saturday night’s Grand Final against the Perth Redbacks at Bendat Basketball Centre.
The man affectionately known as ‘Phil’ after the Australian basketball coaching and playing legend might not have the stature or profile of some of his teammates, but there is no more popular figure at the Wolfpack.
He also remains an important player on the team helping form a strong back court for the Wolves alongside Ben Ironmonger, Trian Iliadis and Reece Maxwell, and he is excited to be back to another Grand Final even though he tries to keep the week as normal as possible.
“It’s always a good feeling to be in a Grand Final and for me this is my third one. I missed the first one after tearing my ACL and then we’ve lost the other two we played in so I am looking forward to having another crack at it to try and get the win this time around,” Smyth said.
“I’m a pretty lowkey type of guy so I don’t get too caught up in the hype of a Grand Final. We all work five days a week so you do your normal things during the day and it can be a little bit different if you change your training venues and times, but I just try to keep to my same routine as much as I can. I try not to make Grand Final week feel any different.”
Highlighting Smyth’s importance to the Wolfpack has been that his two biggest impacts this finals series have come in the two Game 3s.
He played 29 minutes for six points, five rebounds and five assists in the decider against the Cockburn Cougars and then another 20 minutes for five points and three assists last Saturday night against the Geraldton Buccaneers.
He was happy to get through both series against tough opposition to help the Wolves into a fifth Grand Final of the past seven years.
“Cockburn is obviously a tough team and we all know if we’re on the bench we are capable of stepping up, but to then have to do it in Game 3 was a big moment. I’m proud that we were able to step up in the absence of Seb and I’m glad we got it done against them,” he said.
“Geraldton are a tough team too and we always knew Saturday night was going to be a grind. We always play four quarters and that’s what we base our game on so we wanted to out grind them for the whole game. We were able to do that and that was the first hurdle, and then we felt we had a bit of momentum from that on Sunday, we stuck to our guns and finished off strong to get the win.”
Smyth is more than happy to play whatever role is asked of him as well.
“The last couple of years my role has been to come off the bench and just know what I need to do out there, and I’ll always go out there and try my hardest. If there are times I spend long periods on the bench where my role is to cheer on then that’s what I’ll do as well,” he said.
“With me it can just come down to who we match up best on in terms of height and things like that but whatever the team needs, I’ll do it. I just enjoy playing and being part of this team.”
Looking ahead to Saturday night’s Grand Final and Smyth has no doubt it would mean a lot to him if the Wolves were able to win given how much the club and association has meant to his life.
“It would mean a lot to win a championship for this club. I have been part of this club since I was a young kid and this is what we play for so it would mean a lot to me especially to actually be out on the court and be part of it,” Smyth said.
“The club has been a huge part of my life. I started here when I started WABL, then junior comps and Sean Easther and I have played together our whole junior careers and now through SBL.
“I’ve played with a lot of guys with a long time now and it means a lot to me to play with them and the whole club. Then there are people like Van and Mary (Kailis) who have been around for so long, they did a lot for us and I couldn’t have asked for more from this club.”
Smyth doesn’t try to spend too much thinking about his run of bad luck in Grand Finals that started with the knee injury when they won in 2011 and then the losing deciders he played in back in 2013 and 2016 on top of being away when they won in 2015.
But each one has its own story behind it and Smyth is hoping that it all becomes worth it this Saturday night.
“Losing a Grand Final is never fun but you have to get to one to lose it and it’s always still a good achievement to make it even though you are obviously disappointed to lose. The next year it always motivates you a little bit at different times when you need some encouragement, but I haven’t been thinking about it too much as this year has gone along,” he said.
“I was a lot younger then and it was seven years ago now so it was tough at the time but there’s not much you can do about it once you’ve done the injury. It was difficult but I still got to watch these guys win a championship and I be part of it. There’s not much more I can ask for except for obviously getting on the court myself but I couldn’t do much about it.
“I was travelling the world when they won the last title as well so it was good to see the boys win it again but I will never regret getting away for that year. I want to see the world so I didn’t want to miss out on that chance and I had a great time enjoying myself. It was good to have that break and snice I’ve been back I have loved being involved in the club again.”
One player who Smyth would especially enjoy sharing the championship with would be Reece Maxwell given he’s also one Wolves player yet to play in a title victory as well.
But he is fully aware the Redbacks are going to be far from easy to overcome.
“I have a pretty close bond with Maxy and neither of us have won a championship yet even though we’ve been around for a long time. We’ve both played in a couple of losing Grand Finals so it would be nice to play in a winning one with him,” Smyth said.
“They are going to be tough. They are big and they have Redhage as an ex-Wildcat, Lee Roberts who is one of the toughest imports in the league and they are deep. But it’s going to be a good game, it should be a good contest and hopefully we end up getting the win.”
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia