‘Benji Barba’ gaffe won’t define me: Smith

Fans might beg to differ, but Dave Smith is confident his infamous “Benji Barba” gaffe won’t define his tumultuous three-year reign as NRL boss.

The outgoing chief executive hopes leaving the game “in great shape” overshadows his blunder at the 2013 season launch.

Less than a month into the job, the Welsh-born former banker referred to then-troubled star Ben Barba as Benji, the slip of the tongue coming after Smith had conceded he wasn’t able to identify the Kangaroos captain, Cameron Smith, when he accepted the job.

“It’s a long time ago. At the end of the day, I talk to you guys now and you tell me: how often you stuff up names,” Smith told reporters during Tuesday’s resignation media conference in Sydney.

“You have good days and you have bad days. Of course, you regret those sort of things.

“I don’t think people will judge where this organisation is based on whether you get someone’s name right or wrong.

“What they have to judge the organisation on is based on the product on the field, the off-field behaviours and the opportunity of expansion and growth we have.

“In the past three years, we have taken this amazing platform and started to realise these big opportunities.”

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman John Grant, who will take over as interim CEO while a global search for a replacement is conducted, said the league’s controversial decision to appoint a chief executive from the banking industry and not a football background should not be questioned.

“It’s worth reflecting on what the game has moved to in the past three years,” Grant said.

“Our marquee Origin and finals series are the strongest they’ve ever been, the international game has rediscovered its mojo, the growth of the women’s game and the success of the Jillaroos, the reinvigoration of the All Stars and the entire new formats of Auckland Nines and World Club Series.

“I think that answers the concerns (over a businessman becoming CEO).”

Despite Smith failing to win over fans, Grant was adamant he’d been the right man for the job.

“When the Commission was formed almost four years ago, we came into a game we knew was going to undertake some transformation,” he said.

“In order to do that, you needed to have a leader who could lead that. We were very purposeful in hiring Dave.

“We needed business skills because the business hadn’t been run like a business and it was financially insecure at that time.

“It needed someone who could build a financial strength of the organisation on the back of the broadcast rights we had at that stage.

“We needed a change agent. What they do is come in and do all the tough stuff.”

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