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20 Stars for 2023 | Ryley Smith

Mitch Kenny and Soni Luke might have the inside running to take over as hooker at Penrith Panthers, but Ryley Smith could be the name to remember for the long term at the foot of the mountains.

Smith has been a mainstay in Penrith’s pathways program for several years now, playing in the Panthers’ 2019 UNE Harold Matthews Cup side, followed by two seasons in the UNE SG Ball Cup (2021-22), and his first full season of Jersey Flegg Cup (Under 21s) this year.

Remarkably, he was also excelling at the same time in another sport after making a name for himself in the national level in cricket.

In 2021 – and within a year after being selected in the Under 18s Australian cricket team – Smith was named in the Australian Schoolboys Rugby League Merit team.

Throw in a stint for NSW in touch football and Smith is certainly well-versed in the sporting arena. If you ask Panthers pathways manager Lee Hopkins, it’s that athleticism and ability between the ears that makes him a top performer in the Penrith ranks.

“Ryley is a multi-talented kid,” Hopkins said earlier this year.

“He trialled for the Australian Under 19s World Cup squad this year (2022), he’s an extremely talented kid, got a great football brain and is extremely fit.”

Another of Smith’s attributes to come to the fore in 2022 was his versatility in key positions. He played predominantly at hooker for his 15 Jersey Flegg Cup matches but also managed six games in the halves while filling in for five-eighth Niwhai Puru.

The 19-year-old was a key contributor in their charge towards the Under 21s Premiership, with two tries, eight try assists, nine line-break assists, 16 tackle busts and 261 tackles.

With his 20th birthday in February and a bright future ahead, it seems a Knock-On Effect NSW Cup debut is very much in the offing for Ryley Smith in 2023 – and potentially an NRL appearance.

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New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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