Brandon Smith has taken the long road to the Kiwis jersey.

Many players in Michael Maguire's league squad have varied backgrounds, but few with such colourful journeys as the 22-year-old hooker.

Smith, who will make his test debut tomorrow, has come to the Kiwis via Waiheke Island, Townsville and Melbourne, where he has served as Cameron Smith's apprentice over the last two seasons.

"I started playing when I was three or four years old and I haven't stopped since," said Smith. "League's always been the sport for me, even when I could barely run and was probably tackling my own teammates sometimes. From a pretty young age I knew what I wanted to achieve, and tried to do everything possible to make it."


That dedication was evident a decade ago, when, barely out of primary school on Waiheke, he was catching a series of buses and ferries just to make training on the mainland.

"There were some long days but it didn't matter ... I loved training anyway."

Waiheke, with its holiday atmosphere, stunning beaches and lush vineyards, isn't regarded as a league nursery but was the perfect place for Smith in his formative years.

"I was lucky to be brought up on such a gorgeous island," said Smith, who was born in Surfdale and brought up in Onetangi. "It's a great community, you could walk around everywhere and there were no dramas. They've helped me a lot and every opportunity I have to go back, I do."

Smith played for the Waiheke Rams from pre-school age, and was good enough to be in the Under-15 grade as a 10-year-old. By that time he had started travelling to Auckland to train and play, first with Richmond, then Bay Roskill.

Logistically it was tricky, as he had to leave school early to make the 3pm boat from Waiheke, and might not return home until 9 or 10pm.

"Every Tuesday and Thursday I had to duck out early from class," said Smith. "Once I got to Auckland I had to take a train, then a bus. My parents came with me for the first few years, then they sent me on my way. They were long days when you were 10 or 11, but I loved training and it helped me grow up fast."

Smith moved to Townsville as a 14-year-old, after being spotted in a trial game while on a family holiday.


He lived with his brother Dylan, who was in the Cowboys system, and made a series of schoolboy representative sides before scoring his own deal with the North Queensland club. Smith made his debut for the Junior Cowboys in 2015, as they reached the semifinals.

His next big break came at the venue of tomorrow's test, Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland, when he was one of the standout players in a 2016 mid-year- clash between the Junior Kiwis and the Junior Kangaroos, making three line breaks and running for more than 150m.

That prompted a three-year offer from the Storm, which Smith couldn't refuse, despite feeling loyalty to the Cowboys.

He has progressed swiftly since, although admits he was a bundle of nerves on his NRL debut in May last year.

Smith played 18 games for the Storm in 2018, mostly as an interchange forward.

Smith is unlikely to play 80 minutes tomorrow. He'll be targeted but the naturally confident rake isn't one to take a backward step.

"I want to stamp my mark and be in the Kiwis for a long time," said Smith.


• 3pm:

Kiwi Ferns v Jillaroos.

• 5pm:

Jnr Kiwis v Jnr Kangaroos.

• 7.45pm:

Kiwis v Kangaroos.