I’m an Adrian Morley disciple.
I explained as much when I published this magnum opus detailing and explaining the most significant — or most spectacular — hits from his time at Bondi.
So it was with a tear in my eye that I saw The Moz had made the Daily Telegraph’s “Top Ten Recruits” list in Friday’s paper.
A look at the top five is self-explanatory, and I never had the pleasure of watching five through nine so it’s hard to dispute those opinions when you don’t have a reference point.
But there is one noticeable, dare I say unforgiveable, omission:
Where the hell is Craig Fitzgibbon?
He only retired in 2009. Has everyone already forgotten how damn good Craig Fitzgibbon actually was?
The numbers don’t lie:
– Five Grand Finals: four with the Roosters (2000, 2002, 2003, 2004), one with the St George Illawarra Dragons (1999)
– Clive Churchill Medal winner (2002)
– Highest point-scoring forward in NRL history (1560 from 39 tries and 700 goals)
– 15 games for Australia (90 points from three tries and 39 goals
– Eight games for NSW (36 points from one try and 16 goals)
– 239 first grade NRL games
– Sydney Roosters Captain 2006-2009.
But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Sure, there are figures floating around like when he made 59 tackles in a State of Origin game, 60 + in another. But it was his leadership on and off the field — from playing 80 minutes regularly, and playing that first minute with the same energy he played his last, to being the fittest player in the club — that made him stand out over Morley.
He captained the club through some pretty tough times, when they made the finals just once, failed to win a single finals game and was sacked in the season when the club won the spoon in 2009.
Throughout, Fitzgibbon held his head higher than most and will go down as one of the most respected players not just in Roosters history, but in Rugby League history. Everyone loved the bald bastard.
As I said earlier, I’m a Morley disciple. But saying that Fitzgibbon was a better player is not sacrilege. Fitzgibbon is a club legend and (gulp) deserves to be in the top 10 All-Time Roosters “Recruits” ahead of Morley.
(This is not to say that Morley doesn’t deserve a spot in the top 10 mind you — I simply can’t speak with any authority on Hugh McGahan. And I think the Daily Telegraph can speak on Tony Paskins with about as much authority as I can.)
Allow my to delve into the video archives to remind those for whom the memory has faded just how great this man was.
Heavy hitter — on occasion.
As a second-rower/lock, Fitzy could line up undersized wingers from Manly with the best of them. Take this cruncher on Michael Robertson:
He didn’t hit with the force or regularity that Moz could, nor did he have the same vindictive streak that Adrian had. But the above clip epitomises what Fitzgibbon was all about: not the impact, but the effort.
Notice how he is the first downfield chasing the kick and applying pressure to the kick-returners? This was what set Fitzgibbon apart from many of his peers. His superior fitness enabled him to chase kicks all day, and his deceptive speed enabled him to beat many of his teammates upfield while surprising the kick returner.
It’s this type of effort that Roosters fans have missed the most since he left for Hull at the end of 2009.
The voice of reason amid a sea of clusterfuck.
Fitzy didn’t enjoy the success at captain that Freddy did. Heck, Freddy even dropped him as captain midway through the 2009 season — his last at the Roosters — in favour of Braith Anasta, who led the team to the Grand Final the following year.
But I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if Craig Fitzgibbon didn’t know how to bamboozle a referee.
Clearly he was a step above in terms of smarts over the men in the middle:
You know in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy how Baxter is “like a miniature Buddha, covered in hair”? Well, Fitzgibbon was like a six-foot Buddha who could run all day and had no hair.
He cut to the core of Ben Cummins there. And Ben Cummins wasn’t even mad; he was amazed (probably).
Great tryscorer – in a style sense.
No one is going to mistake Craig Fitzgibbon for Steve Menzies any time soon.
He scored 39 tries in 239 games for an average of 0.16 tries per match. He also didn’t have a natural scoring style: he couldn’t “slide” over like the great ones do: when he tried, it just looked awkward.
So Fitzy resorted to a style he made his own: the Fitzy flop.
While he didn’t score too many tries in his career, he scored them when it counted.
He scored a try in the 1999 Grand Final for the Dragons against the Storm. The following year he scored the Roosters’ only try in the Grand Final loss against the Broncos, and scored a tough try against the Warriors in the 2002 decider that put the Chooks up 16-8 and pretty much out of reach.
And he scored one of the most memorable tries in Roosters history two games before that one. But more on that a little later.
Fitzgibbon: War Horse.
Fox Sports put together a great little montage of the man prior to the 2008 season, when he would captain the club to a top four finish and their first finals berth since God retired. He truly did do it all.
I’ve always wondered how valuable Fitzgibbon would be in Dream Team: He didn’t break many tackles, he penetrated the line rarely and he didn’t have a great — or regular — offload (although it got better as his career went on).
But he kicked goals, played 80 minutes, led the NRL in tackles one year and regularly ran the ball. I’d imagine he’d be slightly under the value of Corey Parker, but you’d take Fitzgibbon because he never missed a game and was one of the most accurate kickers of all time.
This one needs a little bit of context.
The Roosters had won six straight entering this game, where the winner would progress to the Grand Final qualifier. The Roosters were heavy favourites against the defending premiers, the Newcastle Knights — a team that was missing superstar Andrew Johns.
It should have been a cakewalk from the jump.
However, the Knights put in one of the best performances they’ve ever produced in keeping the scoreline to 6-6 midway through the second half.
The Roosters had offered nothing of substance in attack and when they did, the Knights had a defensive answer every single time.
The Knights’ Sean Rudder then made a break from the scrum and raced 80 metres to nearly score, before a miraculous try-saving chase by then-winger Anthony Minichiello (left).
A try there would have given the Knights the lead, and momentum would’ve been impossible from that point to swing back.
The Knights then played the ball from that tackle and sent it mid-field.
That try broke the Knights. They were absolutely cooked from there. The Roosters went on to win 38-12, with Fitzgibbon getting Man of the Match honours: an honour he would get again just two weeks later.
That try saved the Roosters’ season and ultimately allowed them to win their first premiership in the colour television era. I have no doubt about that.
I was there, and I know that the Roosters were on the ropes. There was no sense of inevitability that the Roosters would eventually figure it out, only feelings of severe anxiety and grave doubt.
That intercept was so unexpected, so miraculous and so, SO timely.
Roosters fans rode Fitzy like Phar Lap all 90 metres to the try line, and Knights fans knew the try was the straw that broke their team’s back.
Morley was one of the all time great Roosters. his time at the club — 2001 to 2006 — will be remembered as some of the most entertaining years in the club’s history and he will go down as perhaps the clubs greatest ever cult figure.
But Fitzgibbon should always be placed ahead of Moz.
For 10 years the big guy poured his heart and soul into a club that he proudly ended up captaining with distinction.
Even as the record books look more favourably on Fitzgibbon compared to his British teammate, you don’t even need to open the first page to remember what Fitzy meant to the club, his teammates and his fans.
A true legend of the game who history has somehow seemed to under-rate, a club legend who worked his arse off.
Thanks again, Fitzy.