TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 28: William Smith of the Eels (2nd left) celebrates after scoring a try during the round nine NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Parramatta Eels at 1300SMILES Stadium on April 28, 2017 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

In a true rags to riches story, Eels battled utility Will Smith will lead the side out this week as captain after last week appearing as ball boy.

After upsetting the Melbourne Storm last week, Coach Brad Arthur has decided to rest nine members of the starting lineup during their upcoming Round 25 clash against the Penrith Panthers. As a result, Smith, whose contribution to the side last week was as ball boy, will suit up this week... And dawn the captaincy as well.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - JULY 23: Eels coach Brad Arthur during the round 20 NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Parramatta Eels at Cbus Super Stadium on July 23, 2016 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Jason O'Brien/Getty Images)

After making his debut in 2014 with the Penrith Panthers, Smith played sporadically for the side over the next three years, eventually being signed by the Eels in 2017.

The 29-year-old utility enjoyed his best year of football in 2017, appearing in a total of 15 games and scoring six tries.

Since his maiden season with the Eels, Smith has seen a decline in his playing time, totalling only 20 appearances from 2018-2020.

2021 has seen a bit of resurgence for Smith, who's played 14 games this season and obviously caught the eye of Arthur.

Try Assists
Tackle Breaks

Arthur reportedly told Smith of his decision to have him not only play but captain the side against Penrith this week prior to the match against Storm.

"Brad just said I am going to rest you this week and next week when you play you are going to be captain," Smith said.

"I was buzzing. I went back up to my room and told my old man and my family. They loved it. Dad didn't cry but my grandfather was one of the first people I told and he lost it. He was super excited and happy for me.

"It is a proud moment to be putting this jersey on this weekend and being the captain considering the captains who have been at this club before.

"I am playing against my old club so you always want to beat them but I don't really care about them, I am more worried about us.

"It would be huge knowing we can knock the top two teams off. We know within ourselves that we can do that sort of thing."

Smith, who has made a total 72 NRL appearances since his debut with the Panthers in 2014, has never captained a team at any level but Arthur has decided to place his trust in the utility. Smith has also seemed to have earned the respect of veteran winger and former NSW representative Blake Ferguson.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 31: Blake Ferguson of the Eels scores a try during the round 12 NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Bankwest Stadium on May 31, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Ferguson, who's yet to be offered an extension by the Eels, is apparently looking forward to being captained by Smith who he believes will continue to lead by his actions.

"Will wears his heart on his sleeve, he is a tough bugger, he rips in and will turn up for you when times are tough," Ferguson said.

"He just wants to go out there and do the job for the team. He probably won't make it about himself. We are going to go out there as a group and we all need to work hard and try to get the two points against these guys."

Ferguson is only one of three players (Haze Dunster and Joey Lussick being the others) that have been selected in the same jerseys for the Penrith clash that they wore last week against the Storm.

Smith's story is one of triumph and opportunity, proving that respect amongst peers is sometimes more important as a leader than the amount of points you score. What will be more interesting to see is the activity that Smith gets once the finals start.