Nick Smith - the Swans' Mr Reliable

Nick Smith may not be flashy defender but he gets the job done. Photo: Anthony Johnson
Nick Smith may not be flashy defender but he gets the job done. Photo: Anthony Johnson

If Port Adelaide's excitement machine Chad Wingard is viewing Nick Smith merely as the fall guy in his next highlight reel, he had better think again.

Smith was  a finalist in Cleo's Bachelor of the Year contest last year but that is about as glamourous as it's likely to get for the dependable Sydney defender who nearly always gets the job done. And the Swans are hoping it stays that way.

By his own admission, Smith is "not a massive, raking left-foot kick or a dashing half-back. There's no point trying to play to that," he  said.

But he is an "exceptional competitor", according to Swans coach John Longmire. "And that gets you a long way," he  said.

To understand just how hard Smith takes defeat consider this.

To many, April 29, 2011 was memorable for a royal wedding rather than a football game. Smith remembered the day - but it had nothing to do with William and Kate though what happened could be as a rare as a royal wedding. Smith played a bad game.

In an electrifying burst, Carlton's Eddie Betts nailed three clutch goals in five minutes to sink the Swans. Five months later and the game still gnawed away at him.

"I was talking to him in his review at the end of the year and I'd completely forgotten it," Longmire said.

"It was still at the forefront of his memory. He's a very determined player, he prides himself on making it difficult for the opposition."

From the moment Smith walked through the door at the SCG in late 2006 he has impressed the Swans' brains trust.

There was nothing flashy, as his status as a No.15 pick in a rookie draft would suggest, but the Swans liked the character of the former football captain at Scotch College - an exclusive private schools in Melbourne.

"It's a big part of it but his determination always shone through and his commitment to the cause," Longmire said.

"Whether it was school, football or cricket - so he tells me he was an exceptional cricketer - whatever he applied himself at he left nothing in the tank.

"In particular when you get a go on the rookie list it's difficult. Often you only get one-year contracts  and it's pretty much make or break. If he didn't make it, it wouldn't have been through want of trying."

A quick glance at the Swans' best and fairest voting is evidence how highly Smith is rated. Such is his consistency, he has polled in 57 of 69 games from 2011-13 for a pair of sixths and a ninth last year - quite respectable in a top-end team containing six All-Australians during that period.

But Smith did not have an easy initiation. His first two games, in 2008, against that year's grand finalists Geelong and Hawthorn were nearly three months apart. He was dropped after both matches.

The following year he had to wait until round 12 to break back in after stress fractures in his shins.

Smith has not been a prolific ball-winner, averaging under 14 possessions a game, but it does not bother him now like it did before he cemented his place in the team in 2009.

"When you play enough in the seniors and it's reinforced: 'This is what we want from you, you're doing it, and you don't have to go outside that', that's the point when you go 'I am playing week in week out and I'm doing things that are valued by the coaches and players'."

Finding a back pocket is not high on the list of most AFL recruiters and if value of small forwards is rising, as Fairfax columnist Wayne Carey suggests, so too should the worth of the small defender capable of stopping them.

"It's high on my list," Longmire said. "Are they capable of playing as a small defender? That's a question I ask when we recruit."

This means Smith's chances of pushing into the midfield alongside the likes of Kieren Jack, Jarrad McVeigh, Josh Kennedy and co are close to non-existent.

"I dare say I'm pigeon-holed there now, I don't know if I'll be getting out of there," Smith said.

"With the group we've got at the moment there's no point. They're doing a really job."

This story Nick Smith - the Swans' Mr Reliable first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.