The event host may have had a “Dave Smith” moment but this time the NRL boss’ words resonated for all the right reasons at the official season launch in Auckland on Thursday night.
Smith may be prone to a clanger since taking over the NRL, however he exuded cool as he delivered some not so subtle jibes to rival sports while reading his 2015 season address.
But event MC Matt Shirvington was not so lucky, with many swearing he called a certain Canterbury strike weapon Josh Hoffman during an otherwise polished ceremony that ushered in this weekend’s Auckland Nines at Eden Park.
NRL chief executive Smith took his time reading from his teleprompter in front of more than 500 VIPs in Auckland – possibly while still reeling from fallout over confusing Benji Marshall and Ben Barba, coming up with Benji Barba, at the same event two years ago.
But there wasn’t a gaffe in sight as Smith signalled the first NRL season launch in New Zealand and only second outside Sydney.
Indeed Smith did everything right as traditional elders greeted him with a nose-to-nose Maori kiss on-stage before unveiling his bold vision, cheekily describing the NRL program as the greatest in sporting entertainment across Australia and New Zealand”.
“Wow, what a calendar,” Smith said.
“As you’ve seen, it’s a calendar which will take us through the best 10 months of sporting entertainment across Australia and New Zealand.”
But some were left scratching their heads after swearing former Olympic sprinter Shirvington, now the face of Fox Sports’ NRL coverage, mistook Dogs centre Josh Morris for Titans fullback Josh Hoffman during the extravagant launch.
The gaffe appeared to be made while Blues clad Morris strode out holding the Origin trophy representing NSW before the 2015 NRL season was officially launched by new South Sydney captain Greg Inglis and local superstar Shaun Johnson.
But it seemed nothing was going to dampen Smith’s enthusiasm.
“We already know, from our success last year, that nothing can capture big audiences and excitement like rugby league,” he said.
“We’re coming off the back of a phenomenally successful 2014 where we had the top three television programs of the year.
“Origin II was the highest rating rugby league match ever, (with) nearly 4 million people attending matches live at the grounds.
“Our clubs recorded record memberships, more than 250,000 fans signed up to support their clubs – the game has never been stronger.”
Smith added: “But, if 2014 was a spectacular season, 2015 is set up to be even more memorable.
“State of Origin returns to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the first time in 18 years.
“And to top it off, we’ll have live Sunday afternoon football on the Nine network.
“This is a big game with a big heart and an even bigger spirit – and one heck of a lot of talent.”