In June 2020 Smith was forced to retire with an unusual neck (disc) injury which, left unattended, could have caused permanent pain.
On October 6, 2021, eight days after the birth of her child, Smith went to see her doctor. At stake was her future rugby prospects.
"I discovered my injury by accident in 2019 after my last Test against Aussie. I had no intention of playing again but I got itchy feet,” Smith said.
"It's been a long journey to put it short. I wasn't in the shape I wanted to be last year, but I've rediscovered my love of the game, little things like spending more time with my teammates.
"I've had the easy role in getting fit again. The doctors, trainers, coaches, managers, friends, and whanau have been unbelievable with their support. Everything from babysitting kids to filling in shifts at work. It's been overwhelming.”
"I was only going to play again if I was medically cleared, but I couldn't get a scan until after I'd given birth,” Smith said.
She got one scan before she got pregnant which showed slight improvement however had to wait for a second follow up scan after the baby was born to give her the all clear.
Smith's improbable comeback was launched in March 2022 when she was named in the Blues for Super Rugby Aupiki but didn’t play the tournament.
However, she helped Hora Hora win the Rana Paraha Northland senior women’s championship in their centenary season. Hora Hora was unbeaten overpowering Te Rarawa, 36-12 in the final.
She played all seven matches for Northland in the FPC. Highlights were wins over North Harbour (27-23) and double success against Taranaki. She finished inside the top three of the Fiao'o Fa'amausili best and fairest medal standings.
Smith was also pivotal in driving better maternal treatment of mothers by the Northland Rugby Union. Northland instituted a policy where mothers were able to be accompanied by their babies on tour and better support processes were put in place for mothers.
In 2023 Northland club rugby was strengthened by the creation of the Old Boys Marist ‘Sirens’ club in Whangārei. Ahora Savage started the team and Smith joined the new outfit who were runners up to Te Rarawa.
“The Sirens were a combination of girls who’d never played rugby before inspired by the Black Ferns World Cup win or girls returning to rugby after a long break. It was great to help build more depth and see the growth in those who’d never played,” Smith said.
The Kauri have played an eye-catching style of rugby to win four out of five matches and earn the first home semifinal in their history. Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish the difference between forwards and backs.
Savage (77) and No.8 Hikitia Wikaira (84) are the leading carriers in the FPC. Hooker Te Kura Ngata-Aerengamate has delivered a competition-leading 17 offloads and Black Ferns prop Krystal Murray has scored six tries. Smith scored two tries in the 42-20 win over Otago on August 5 and a 70m run against Taranaki was symbolic of a newfound freedom.
“Our style is so much fun. It’s like going out to have an organised game with your mates,” Smith said.
“We're encouraged to play what’s in front of us, read space, and use your skills which suits my game. There is structure but it’s not as methodical as it used to be which is fantastic. High risk leads to high reward. It’s not the end of the world if you make a mistake.”
Savage has played for different positions, including first and second five. Young backs Ocean Tieney and Lara Cooper have flourished.
Otago boasts dangerous outside backs. Winger Jamie Church has scored a competition-leading ten tries, Keely Hill and Cheyenne Cunningham are a dynamic midfield pairing and, in the forwards, openside Leah Miles is the top tackler with 105 and hooker Tegan Hollows and lock Julia Gorinski bring a wealth of experience.
“Otago has lots of pace on edge huge workers in the forwards. A home semi is a big occasion. We’ll make a point of not getting overcome by that and sticking to what has worked for us,” Smith said.
Police sergeant Smith has played 27 Tests (24 wins) for the Black Ferns and harbours ambitions of a return. In 2017 she scored a try in the 41-32 World Cup final win against England by famously planting the ball against the base of the post.
“I didn’t know that rule until the captain’s run the day before. For some reason that subject came up and coach Glenn Moore explained the rule to me. When the chance arose to do it in the World Cup final it was like ‘Oh wow,’ is this actually happening.”
Originally from a netball background and having also represented North Harbour in sevens, Smith was promoted to the Black Ferns and appeared in all three Test wins of the 2015 Super Series in Canada, after just five games of club rugby for East Coast Bays.
“The Black Ferns were in a rebuilding phase. It was good luck and good timing that I found myself there.
“The day before my first Test I didn’t even know what a lineout was. I’ve never really lived that one down.
“Mum brought me Aaron Cruden’s rulebook after my first tour, she said you better read this.
“Restarting the game now feels like a dream. Learning the rules all over again and adapting to the changes in playing style has been an awesome challenge.”