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When Dave Smith was introduced as the new chief executive of the NRL back in November 2012, it was met with a degree of scepticism from critics who questioned how a Welsh banker could run a game he was relatively unfamiliar with. 

Yet reflecting on the past three years of Smith's tenure upon the announcement he will be stepping down from the job next month, it's fair to say the game has taken a turn for the better.

As chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission John Grant said during the announcement of Smith's exit on Tuesday, the outgoing CEO has helped the game's crown jewels – State of Origin and the finals series – shine, while laying positive foundations for the international game, particularly the Jillaroos and Pacific nations.

We've seen the Auckland Nines and World Club Series introduced and the NRL All Stars fixture return with the bang over the past three years, while punches and shoulder charges have been all but eradicated from the game.

It's been a long journey since Smith was unable to recognise the Australian captain and others when he was first announced in the role, as well as his "Benji Barba" gaffe at the 2013 NRL season launch.

"You have good days and you have bad days and 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," Smith said of that slip of the tongue on Tuesday. 

"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. These past three years we have taken this amazing platform and started to realise the big opportunities involved.

"I've decided the time now is right for me to move on. The reason for that is rugby league has finished an unbelievable year with one of the biggest and best grand finals we have ever had. It's been an exceptional year by any standards. 

"Rugby league is stronger and healthier than ever before. We are now financially robust and have distributed more funding than ever before to clubs, states and into game development whilst at the same time building strong reserves and a strong balance sheet for our future. 

"Now it's time to hand over to a new leader to ensure the transformation we have started continues. The game moves forward with the opportunity to consolidate on the gains we have made in the past few years and I wouldn't be going anywhere if I didn't think the fans of this game wouldn't be getting good outcomes."

As Grant pointed out, Smith leaves the games amidst arranging a new broadcast deal and a new funding model to the clubs and following the recently announced $1 billion boost to Sydney stadia. 

"When the Commission was formed almost four years ago, we came into a game we knew was going to undertake some transformation. In order to do that you needed to have a leader who could lead that," Grant said.

"We were very purposeful in hiring Dave. We needed business skills because the NRL hadn't been run like a business; 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. The handshake arrangement Dave and I had was for three to five years, and I'm sorry it's three years but that's Dave's decision. I'm delighted with where the game is and its position."

Smith said criticism from fans, stakeholders and the media wasn't a factor in his decision to step down from the role.

"This is one of these jobs where the media plays such a big part, by and large a very active and constructive part of taking the game to the fans. The more we can bring the excitement of the game and all that goes with the game – the saga that is rugby league – I instinctively understand that more now," Smith said. 

"With that comes some criticism, sometimes you deserve the criticism and you can understand where that comes from. Other times it's a communication method to our fans so I understand the media a lot better and it does a large job in propagating this game.

"It's part and parcel for a public office. I understand because of the privilege it represents to be in this job. The media does a great job giving the message out to the fans and the fans want to hear it."

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Acknowledgement of Country

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs respect and honour the Darug and Eora nations, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.