The Northland Legends of Sport concept was launched last year as a way of recognising our sporting icons and kicked off in fine style with three inaugural inductees announced at the Northland Sports Awards dinner. All Blacks Sid Going and Peter Jones, and table tennis great Neti Traill were the first inductees. Last night three more - All Black great Johnny Smith, international rugby referee Pat Murphy and Northland hockey icon Trevor Blake - were added to the list of legends.
Ask any rugby fanatic to name their best All Black team ever, and there is one name that invariably gets a mention. Johnny Burns Smith.
Alongside Colin Meads, that immense rugby character who epitomises the national game, JB Smith ranks as one of those rare rugby commodities: An immortal.
Immortal in name and reputation that is, because JB Smith died aged 52 at his home in Opononi in 1974.
But by then he had etched his name into the sporting history books as one of the most remarkably talented rugby players ever.
Despite the fact that precious few alive today would have ever seen JB Smith in action, tales of his skill and the mastery of his playing ability still pervade historical conversations to this day.
Described as variously "a prince of centres" and a "rugby phenomenon" JB Smith was undoubtedly a master of the game.
But for a man who looms large still as one of New Zealand rugby most enduring legends Johnny Smith had a remarkably compressed international career. Indeed, in the 1946-47-49 seasons he played just nine games, four of which were tests, all against Australia.
It was not entirely Smith's fault that he had such an abbreviated test record. Injuries affected him, the vagaries of selectors and, of course, he was a victim of the unforgivable weakness shown by New Zealand rugby in meeting South Africa's apartheid conditions.
As one with Maori ancestry Smith was ruled ineligible for the All Blacks' tour of South Africa in 1949.
Smith made his mark internationally as a star in the New Zealand Army side which toured Britain, France and internally in 1945-46 at the end of World War Two.
Smith's impeccable, inspired play at centre was one of the team's greatest assets.
In his biography Bob Scott, a teammate in the Kiwis, said of Smith: "I have seen a good many three-quarters of all nations and I will say simply that Smith was the best of the lot, bar none."
And Winston McCarthy, the legendary rugby commentator, described JB Smith thus: "He had everything - perfect poise, he could swerve, he could fend, he could sidestep off either foot, he could kick with either foot, he could change pace in a flash, and, above all, he never lost his cool."
Like all great sportsmen, Smith had a knack of making a game seem easy. He also had an uncanny gift for deception. He also had a wicked sense of humour.
Between 1942, when he started playing in army matches, and 1954, when he played for North Auckland for the last time, he played in 125 first-class matches, of which 41 were for North Auckland.
With North Auckland he gained many highlights. He captained the province to a 32-19 win over the touring Wallabies in 1946 and he came close to leading his union to another international win against the British Lions. He appeared to have scored what may have been the winning try with an individual piece of brilliance only to be ruled controversially to have passed the ball forward, with the referee saying the action of transferring the ball from his left hand to his right was forward movement of the ball.
"Surely," he stated in later years, "I must be the only player in history to have passed the ball forward to himself."
Later in 1950 he gained some consolation by leading North Auckland to their first Ranfurly Shield win. They beat South Canterbury.
Johnny Smith was the first recipient of the Tom French Cup in 1949 as the Maori player of the year. He served as a North Auckland selector 1956. He is still the only Northlander to captain the All Blacks in a test match. His father, Len, played for North Island Country 1912 and his brother Peter toured Australia with the 1947 All Blacks.
He was also a top amateur golfer, winning the Northland champion of champions title and also played two representative cricket games for the province.
JB Smith is posthumously inducted in the Northland Legends of Sport.