Exclusive: Ex-Bradford Bulls winger wants rugby return after playing American Football professionally & stint at Wigan Warriors

Jacob Smillie’s name goes alongside the likes of Valentine Holmes and other courageous rugby league players who have tried their hands as different sports.

But Smillie is now ready to return to rugby.

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

He then made the switch to rugby league with Halifax where he even earnt the praise of former Wigan Warriors legend Martin Offiah for some of the sensation rugby he was producing on the wing.

At the end of 2019 he earnt a move to home town team Bradford Bulls but wasn’t given a chance to star at Odsal due to the pandemic at the end of which he joined Swinton Lions.

However, in October 2021 Smillie was tried his hand at American Football in the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program starring in the International Combine at Tottenham Hotspurs’ stadium registering the fourth fastest speed in the 40 yard dash.

Speaking exclusively to Serious About Rugby League, Smillie opened up 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 dash that we did I got the fourth fastest time out of the 52 athletes from around the world and was also the only athlete from up north.

“Following that I had the opportunity with the Canadian Football League in the Global Combine which went well as well and I was also selected to go into the draft after the Global Combine for the CFL in the CFL global draft.

“Unfortunately I wasn’t drafted by a CFL franchise. Although I wasn’t picked by an NFL side I was given good feedback on to give myself a good chance the next time round.

“After that I played professionally out in Europe which was a great experience. For a running back it’s hard, the play book was 150 pages so I had to pick things up fast.

“It was a really great 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 the sport, he spent some time at Wigan Warriors in 2022 playing for their reserves and making a try scoring return to the sport against Wakefield Trinity: “So to get back into the game a bit I played for Wigan a bit against Wakefield. I played a few games before the final to get back into it.

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

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

Now looking for a club so he can fulfil his ambitions of a return to rugby, when asked if his ambition is to play Super League, he said: “I always strive to be the best I can be, I want to play at the highest possible level I can.”

In terms of when a club could be confirmed: “It’s early days at the moment.”

Smillie is getting into shape and ready to transfer the things he learnt from American Football to rugby league: “I have been working with a few strength and conditioning coaches. When I was playing American Football I was 89-90 kilos but now I’ve gone back down to 86 kilos, I have my fitness back.

“I’ve gone from a running back build to a rugby build like I used to be so I’ve dropped down to 86 kilos and I’ve got my rugby fitness back.

“I’m transforming myself again, even the smaller things like the footwork is different from a winger’s footwork so I’m trying to adapt what I’ve learnt with a bit of rugby flare.

“In terms of footwork is as a running back the footwork out of the blocks has to be exactly the same, the eye contact. It’s more like a dance, it’s a move you have to get right or the move will mess up but in rugby it’s free flowing.”

Reflecting on his time in the sport, he added: “It was a once in a life time opportunity, but I don’t sit down and reflect. The last year I’ve had no social life, I’ve been training hard, learning new things all the skills so I haven’t time to think but looking back now it was a massive achievement one that I’m grateful for and not many athletes get to do.”

When asked if he regretted the move at all, he said: “Definitely not.”

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