Big influence ... Nathan Hindmarsh admits that he owes a lot to Brian Smith. Photo: Anthony Johnson
WHEN coach Brian Smith could not sleep during his time at Parramatta, he would often stay up late watching footage of Nathan Hindmarsh.
It may not be the remedy for a bad night's sleep recommended by most professionals but, for Smith, it allayed his concerns knowing there was someone in his team he could depend on.
Hindmarsh does not like to talk about it, but there were several occasions throughout Smith's tenure at Parramatta where he would call the forwards in for a video session just to show them what Hindmarsh was doing, and how he wanted them to follow suit.
But before we get to the embarrassment the rest of the pack felt being upstaged by the kid from Robertson, let's make a few things clear.
When it comes to Smith, Hindmarsh is the first to admit he did not see eye-to-eye with his former coach.
But before his final game against the man who handed him his debut in 1998, the Eels veteran has paid tribute to rugby league's most capped coach, admitting he would not be the player, or person, he has become if it was not for Smith.
''He's been a very influential person on my career,'' Hindmarsh said. ''I looked to him for advice, not always for on-field stuff, but off the field. We didn't always see eye-to-eye on things, but I had great respect for him. Speaking on behalf of Nathan Cayless and Luke Burt as well, he's one of the reasons why we've been around for so long, because of what he instilled in us growing up.
''Being the younger guys when we first got to Parramatta, he really made us professional and made us grow up a lot quicker than we probably would've.''
While Hindmarsh's attitude and commitment is what stands out to most, it was his ability to stop tries which made Smith a huge admirer of the man he once called a guy with a ''sway back, fat gut and funny bum''.
''Everybody talks about the great players in footy being one play ahead of the rest,'' Smith said. ''When we say that, we're always referring to the great attacking players and attack.
''Somehow or another, Hindy had that sixth sense or predicting powers of recognising what was going to happen next in defence. I think he would've saved more tries and made more big plays in defence than most players ever dreamed of.''
Back to those Hindmarsh video sessions Smith used to put his forwards through. Cayless, who came through the junior ranks alongside Hindmarsh and captained the Eels for much of his career, remembers repeatedly leaving meetings ashamed of how little he was doing in a game in comparison to Hindmarsh.
Smith admired Hindmarsh's never-give-up attitude, the reason why he is still regarded as one of the best players he has coached in almost three decades in the top grade.
''I remember Brian used to just be amazed and used to get the eagle-cam that showed all the little things in the game that Nathan was doing but no one else was doing,'' Cayless said.
''Brian would tell us many times that he'd sit up in the middle of the night when he couldn't sleep and watch Hindy's games over and over. He couldn't believe the amount of work Nathan would get through and the positions he'd be able to get himself into. Throughout his whole career Brian said he'd never seen a player like him. He'll probably never see a player that gets through the amount of work and maximal effort Hindy would put out.
''It certainly did embarrass us when we saw that - he never stopped and never walked on the field. It was amazing, his desire, his commitment and his fitness levels. Many times we walked out of the video room in shame. Smithy would be giving it to us saying 'Look at this guy doing all this work, what are you blokes doing? Sitting back and watching him?' Hindy's a freak, there'll never be anyone like him.''
Discipline and professionalism - the two main characteristics Smith instilled in Hindmarsh.
The Eels back-rower used to arrive at training half an hour before the session began because it was the type of attitude Smith demanded.
''I think one of the boys rang Smithy once and told him he was going to be late to training and Smithy said, 'Mate, I don't want a f---ing traffic report,''' Hindmarsh said. ''But that was it though, you didn't want to be late because you knew it wasn't the right thing to do. You're a professional. When training starts at 9am, you get there at 8.30.
''That attitude has rubbed off on me. I like to see discipline in players and I tell players what Brian told me to do when I was playing. When a bomb goes up, just because you're a forward, it's not your job to stop and watch the ball, you go back and help your fullback and wingers. It was sad to see him go to Newcastle because we really worked hard over 10 years to try and win a grand final.''
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan, who coached Hindmarsh in the SG Ball and Jersey Flegg sides at Parramatta, said he was a different footballer as a teenager to the one he became in the top grade.
''He wasn't a workhorse back then,'' Flanagan said. ''He was a dynamic edge back-rower. Over time he's evolved into a workhorse, but he was dangerous with the ball. I'm not saying he doesn't do that now, but he's become this warrior of the game.''
Canterbury coach Jim Dymock, who played alongside Hindmarsh in his debut game against the Adelaide Rams 15-years-ago, said Hindmarsh was held in high regard by Smith.
''He loved him,'' Dymock said. ''But I knew what he was going to be before he made the top grade. When I was playing first grade, I'd get to the ground at midday, so I knew he was coming through and what type of player he was. Smithy didn't have to tell me. I think everyone knew at the club what he was going to be.''