Exclusive: Ex-Bradford Bulls winger wants rugby return after playing American football professionally and a spell at Wigan Warriors

Jacob Smillie’s name rubs shoulders with those of Valentine Holmes and other brave rugby league players who have tried their hand at different sports.

But Smillie is now ready to return to rugby.

The former Halifax Panthers man played three sports playing for Jamaica in rugby union after playing for Doncaster Knights.

He then moved on to rugby league with Halifax where he even earned praise from former Wigan Warriors legend Martin Offiah for some of the rugby sensation he produced on the wing.

At the end of 2019, he transferred to local team Bradford Bulls, but didn’t get a chance to play at Odsal due to the pandemic at the end of which he joined the Swinton Lions.

However, in October 2021, Smillie tried his hand at American football as part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway program with the International Combine at the Tottenham Hotspurs stadium, recording the fourth fastest speed in the scoreboard of 40 yards.

Speaking exclusively to Serious About Rugby League, Smillie spoke about his American football journey which saw him play the sport professionally: “It was great to have the opportunity with the international combine and in the 40-yard sprint we did, I had the fourth fastest timeout out of 52 athletes worldwide and was also the only athlete from the north.

“Subsequently, I had the opportunity with the Canadian Football League in the Global Combine which also went well and I was also selected to participate in the draft after the Global Combine for the CFL as part of of the CFL World Draft.

“Unfortunately, I was not drafted by a CFL franchise. Although I was not chosen by an NFL team, I received good comments to give me a good chance next time.

“After that I played professionally in Europe which was a great experience. For a running back it’s tough, the playbook was 150 pages so I had to pick things up quickly.

“It was a very good experience and I enjoyed it but I think it’s time to come back to rugby and pick up where I left off.”

As he looked to return to sport, he spent time at Wigan Warriors in 2022 playing for their reserves and having a return to sport trial against Wakefield Trinity: “So to get back into the game for a bit, I played for Wigan a bit against Wakefield. I played a few games before the final to get back to it.

“I scored in the first 10 minutes and we won, it was good to get back in the game and have the ball in my hands.

“It was just an opportunity to get back into the game, they are one of the best clubs in Super League and they have exceptional facilities.”

Now looking for a club to fulfill his ambitions of returning to rugby, when asked if his ambition was to play in the Super League, he replied: “I always strive to be the best I can be, I want to play at the highest possible level that I can.

On when a club could be confirmed: “It’s the beginning for now.”

Smillie is getting back in shape and ready to transfer what he’s learned from American football to rugby league: “I’ve worked with a few strength and conditioning coaches. When I played American football, I weighed 89-90 kilos, but now I’m back down to 86 kilos, I’ve regained my fitness.

“I went from a running back build to a rugby build like before so I dropped down to 86kg and got back to my rugby fitness.

“I’m transforming again, even the little things like footwork are different to being a winger, so I’m trying to adapt what I’ve learned with a bit of rugby rocketry.

“In terms of footwork, it’s like a running back, the footwork off the blocks has to be exactly the same, eye contact. It’s more like a dance, it’s a move you have to do right or the move is going to mess up, but in rugby it’s fluid.

Reflecting on his time in the sport, he added: “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I don’t sit and think. Last year I didn’t have a social life, I trained hard, I learned new things, all the skills, so I don’t have time to think, but looking back, it’s It was a massive achievement for which I am grateful and not many athletes have to do.

When asked if he regretted the move, he replied: “Definitely not.”

About Betty J. Snyder

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