Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
Inspirational Roosters captain Brad Fittler will join an elite band of players on Saturday night, when he plays his 300th first grade game against South Sydney at Aussie Stadium
After joining the Bondi club in 1996, Fittler has helped transform the Roosters from perennial cellar-dwellers into annual premiership contenders ? with the Roosters having not missed a finals series since his arrival.
And this weekend, when Fittler plays his 300th first-grade game and his 399th first-class game, it is being recognised, rightfully, as a significant achievement. Only five others have ever done it, headed by Terry Lamb on 349.
Consider that for a moment, the size of the achievement.
It was put to Fittler that, with the exception of Andrew Ettingshausen (328), the other players looked every minute of those 300-plus games.
Fittler laughed, raised his eyebrows. He said: "And I've played with the lot of them, so that's a bit ordinary."
Right back to playing with Geoff Gerrard (303), who he played with in his first top-grade game at Penrith in 1989.
Fittler was the kid then, still in high school and with the photos with the schoolbooks to prove it.
It is testimony to how far Brad Fittler has come that almost every centimetre of newspaper copy he takes up these days pays tribute to how much he has matured ? of course, it would be a tragedy if he hadn't, but the game is not without its tragics ? all done on the back of what his manager Wayne Beavis once described as: "As a young bloke nobody enjoyed his life more than Freddy."
There were all the stories we know: chatting up a Christmas tree on the Kangaroo tour, thinking it was just a large girl; jumping the median strip on his mini-bike, late and in thongs for Penrith training; always the last to go home, afraid he might miss something; passed out in a cab; saying early that his ambition was never to have to work a day in his life.
Fittler, a member of the Roosters? team of the century, remains grateful for the opportunities rugby league has presented him.
?I?ve just been blessed, I?ve been lucky to play in some good sides,? Fittler said.
?A lot of selectors and clubs have had faith in me.
?I?ve gone through bad times and bad career times, and they?ve still picked me in different sides.?
Fittler, who turned 31 earlier this year, remains amazed his body is still running strong after 14 years at the top.
?It astounds me how my body still stands upright,? he said.
?Other than getting a sore old man?s back everything?s going pretty good.
?As long as your body can keep going that?s all you?ve got to worry about.?
In a huge show of loyalty to the Roosters, Fittler agreed to take a substantial pay cut when he signed with the premiers until the end of the 2004 season on Monday.