Ben Smith scores try in what may be his final game

Ben Smith.
Ben Smith.
If that was Ben Smith’s last game, the Otago great went out with a bang.

Smith started at centre for the Kobe Steelers in their whopping 74-34 win over the Shining Arcs in the final round-robin game in the revamped Japan Rugby League One at the weekend.

He scored one of the Steelers’ 11 tries, four of which were scored by winger Rakuhei Yamashita.

Smith, the veteran of 84 tests for the All Blacks and 153 games for the Highlanders, returns to Dunedin next week to both prepare for his 36th birthday and ponder whether he will seek to continue his professional career.

He told the Otago Daily Times last month he was eager to spend more time with his young family and the contract in Japan could be his last.

Kobe, which also has former Highlanders Richard Buckman, Tom Franklin and Hayden Parker on the books, though none played the final game, finished seventh in the top tier of the Japanese league, 17 points off the semifinals.

The Saitama Wild Knights, with former Otago players Shota Horie and Craig Millar in the front row, were tied at the top with a Suntory Sungoliath team led by All Blacks fullback Damian McKenzie.

The Kubota Spears and the Toshiba Brave Lupus rounded out the semifinal qualifiers.

Former Highlanders Ash Dixon, Fumiaki Tanaka and Fletcher Smith find themselves in a relegation battle with the NEC Green Rockets, who finished 11th in the 12-team top division.

Greg Cooper, the former Highlanders coach, has a chance to get his club back into the top division.

The Mitsubishi Dynaboars, with former Otago No 8 Dylan Nel and former Highlanders Jackson Hemopo and Colin Slade playing key roles, finished second in the second division.

They will play the NTT Shining Arcs in a two-legged promotion-relegation clash on May 21 and May 28.

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