The Gunnedah Bulldogs confirmed last week that first grade captain, Lincon Smith, had signed on with the club for the 2024 season. But, for a period of time following their last game against the Boggabri Kangaroos in July, that was not guaranteed. After he ended his first year as leader of the team with one win and 13 losses, Smith was dispirited and considered seeking better fortune with other clubs. "I was looking at moving on elsewhere, but I just couldn't do it in the end," Smith told the Leader. A born-and-raised Gunnedah lad, Smith realised after some contemplation that it didn't feel right to turn his back on the Bulldogs. Having grown up and progressed through their junior ranks, he said upon receiving the captaincy this year that it was a "childhood dream" recognised. But despite his outward appearance, the tall, bulky lock wears his emotions on his sleeve, and took Gunnedah's losses to heart. "I couldn't just pack up and leave on Gunnedah," Smith said. "It's been a hard not just year, but last four years. I had a few conversations with our president, [David] McCann and our new coach, [Sean Hayne]. "My family are a massive part of Gunnedah, and they're Bulldogs through and through." Having made his first grade debut under Hayne in 2018, Smith said the former coach's return was a key factor in his desire to stay on and help the side rebuild. After the Bulldogs made and narrowly lost that season's grand final, Hayne's contract was not renewed and he was replaced by John Hickey. That caused a stir among the club, Smith said, but he believes it is a mark of Hayne's character that he nonetheless returned when offered the chance. "It goes to show how much his heart's actually in it," he said. "He got the results in 2018. It was the best side on paper, but he made his players get the best out of themselves. He has that desire to win, it's just how he carries himself." Hayne replaced Mick Schmiedel, who retired at the end of 2023 after overseeing the side for the last three seasons. Though he has a long and glittering coaching career of his own, Smith said Schmiedel and the Bulldogs just never quite seemed to click. With a shift in approach from the coaching side of things, Smith looks forward to seeing what the club can produce. And after the tribulations he went through in his first year as captain, the 24-year-old knows now what leadership requires. "I worked on myself a lot," Smith said. "So much of it is staying calm and focused ... everyone out on the field goes through the emotion of what's happening to them at the time. [My job] is mainly to ride the waves and control my emotions. "It was just learning to ride the waves, really, and staying focused on the team and holding everyone together. I learned a lot about myself."