LOCAL LEGEND: Joel Smallwood is passionate about sharing his love and knowledge of rugby league with others.
LOCAL LEGEND: Joel Smallwood is passionate about sharing his love and knowledge of rugby league with others. Claudia Williams

For the love of the game

RUGBY LEAGUE: During the 2018 Origin series the South Burnett Times will be featuring a footy legend from each club in the South Burnett.

What defines them as a 'footy legend' is unique to each individual, whether it be what they have achieved as a player or what they contribute to their club.

Meet our first footy legend, Joel Smallwood.

Joel Smallwood has not missed an A-grade training session yet this season, quite an achievement for the Nanango Stags player, considering he broke his leg in his second game of the season.

It is the first significant injury Smallwood has had since he starting playing footy in the Stags under-6 team.

"It was the worst feeling I have ever had because I know what we've got and what we are trying to work to this year and it has sort of gone out the window for me,” he said.

This season is the first time in three years Smallwood has committed to every training session and improved his fitness and is now forced to watch on from the sidelines.

"The Nanango seniors are re-grouping and we have got a good bunch of boys this year,” he said.

"We are building the senior team and this year is looking like it will be a good year.”

Following surgery to his broken fibula the doctor told him a fit person would be back on their feet in 12 weeks, Smallwood started doing the maths, the finals were another 17 weeks away.

Although, he admits this may be the end of his playing career and he is fortunate to have had such a good run.

Smallwood has featured in a number of grand finals in the South Burnett for Kingaroy and Nanango and for Blackbutt as a junior, and has 40 Queensland Cup games under his belt.

"One year you are up on a high and the next year you're on a low,” he said.

"I have been in that many grand finals and it's always better to win.”

Smalllwood started playing in the Stags senior side at 17 and then made the move to Ipswich at 19 years-old to try his luck in the Q-Cup with the Jets.

As a junior he played in the halves and then moved into the centre when he joined the senior side.

"I played outside some good halves and five eights that set me up and scored a lot of tries back in the day,” he said.

For six months he was playing reserve grade in Ipswich in the centres but when the A-grade full back broke his jaw in three places, Smallwood was asked to step up, and he went on to play at full back in the state league for the next 18 months.

He played alongside and against some of Queensland's greatest players, including Greg Inglis, Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday, Steve Matiai and Matt Ballin.

Smallwood returned to his wife and kids in Nanango after two years of playing in Ipswich.

"Sometimes I regret it but you can't give away what you have got to,” he said.

"It was the best footy I have ever played and the strongest footy I have ever played.

"I was only last night showing my sons pictures of when I was playing at the Jets and showing them who I played against.”

His three sons have played for the Stags and he has coached one of his sons sides since U6s.

Smallwood is passionate about mentoring and coaching the younger generation and hopes to pass on some of his wisdom to his U10s team this season.

At the Jets he was honoured to be coached by the great Trevor Gillmeister and he hopes to use a similar approach.

"He was one of those coaches that told you how it is and straight up front and that is how I have been with coaching kids,” Smallwood said.

"I tell them they are doing a good job but also tell them what they can improve on.”

Smallwood is also a great believer in the saying, 'games are won in defence'.

"We have got a great amount of talent in our senior side but if you don't have your defence right you are not going to win games,” he said.

Smallwood said there was good support and pathways in the area to allow kids to achieve their goals.

"There is a lot of talent out this way and it is pretty sad to see that a lot of kids don't make it,” he said.

At the end of the day the most important thing for Smallwood is making sure you are playing for the love of the game.

"I teach my boys from sixes all the way through to seniors that when you stop enjoying it that's when you know it is time to give up footy,” he said.