TO SAY Parramatta Eels hooker Nathan Smith was excited about 2013 would be an under-statement, especially with a game against his former club the Canterbury Bulldogs in round 2.
But a stray shoulder from Taniela Lasalo ended his dreams of starting the season — and eating solid food.
The 24-year-old broke his jaw in two places putting him on the sideline until round 5.
"Not being able to train or play is painful," he said. "Playing rugby league is something I've always loved and I had the time of my life playing first grade and I want to do it forever.
"It was shattering to know I played the first trial and felt pretty good and then I was going to be out for a while."
Like most footy players, Smith is a terrible spectator.
But his pain was eased a little with a five-star performance from Chris Sandow and Jarryd Hayne in Saturday's opening-round victory against the Warriors.
His focus has switched to getting back on the park as quickly as possible and building on an impressive 2012.
In the same week he moved house and helped Wentworthville to a win in the NSW Cup, he made the first of his nine appearances in the No.9 jumper. It didn't take long for the blue-and-gold army to warm to Smith's down-to-earth attitude and heart-on-the-sleeve performances.
This year he hopes to take his game to the next level under Ricky Stuart. "I'm looking forward to learning new things that'll build me as a player," he said.
■ Read the full story in the Blue and Gold Matchday magazine. Pick up your free copy at ANZ Stadium on Thursday.