There’s an old saying: “as slow as molasses”. Molasses is the gooey by-product left behind by the refining of sugar; it’s slow to drip off a spoon or pour out of a jar, and is particularly slow in the cold.
If you are as slow as molasses, you’re damn slow.
But as slow as it is out of a jar, within certain situations molasses can be deadly. In 1919 a large molasses storage tank burst in Boston, flooding the city’s North End at a speed of 56km/h. Twenty-one people were killed and 150 were injured. It’s now known as the Great Molasses Flood.
(This is all true, by the way.)
Brad Fittler is slow as molasses. He’s 42, playing a game filled with people 15-20 years younger.
But when put in the right situation that allows him to burst — as in “like a tank of molasses” — he can still be deadly, and leave those much younger than he is in his wake.
In the first half of the Roosters’ Nines game against the Broncos — only around 20 minutes into his return to rugby league — Fittler, the alleged has-been, intercepted a lazy cutout by some Broncos never-was. He ran 75 metres to score, and no-one came within spitting distance of chasing him down.
Seventy-five metres. It’s not exactly the 500 yards of shit Andy Dufresne crawled through, but Freddy came out just as clean as the hot-shot banker on the other side.
Watching him latch onto that pass from 25 metres out reminded this writer of the 2000 Grand Final Qualifier or the 2004 Origin Game III, except it is a decade on from the most recent of those games and he ran further yesterday than he did in those two games combined.
If that was all we got from Fittler, I would have left that game happier than a pervert at a flashing convention. But Freddy had more in him.
With the game on the line at 14-7, 2012 Dally M Medal winner Ben Barba wound up with space on the right, and with only Fittler nearby.
The Broncos’ fullback/half put an in-and-away on, and even those that don’t gamble would have bet the mortgage on Barba waving at Freddy as he strolled on by.
Freddy pulled a Minichiello-circa-round-26-on-Merritt and produced the tackle that saved the game.
(It was high, sure, but whatever. It was still SICK.)
Freddy’s intercept and tackle now has the Roosters — an unfancied $21-$26 chance to take the gong — on the brink of progressing through to the playoff stages of the inaugural competition.
To those who criticised Fittler’s inclusion as “mocking the Nines” — even though it was much a product of necessity than design — it was a stiff middle finger back at ’em.
Because Fittler still has something in the tank. He still looks great in that number 6 jersey. He still has the step, the cutout pass, the flatball, the anticipation.
And he still, at the age of 42, has my undivided attention.
Fui Fui ran at Freddy, and Freddy stopped him cold, doing so with a smile on his face. He just loved it, and we loved him for it.
He threw a cut-out so brilliant even his team-mate didn’t see it coming.
He had the crowd on it’s feet for a 75-metre, (what seemed like a) 15-second run.
But most of all, he surprisingly legitimised the Nines as an entertainment spectacle, leaving everyone — not just Roosters fans — with one more lasting memory to savour.
Sure, this is the Nines. In the grand scheme of things — even in the scheme of things this fortnight — the Nines mean very little.
But for those of us who remember every game this great man played, it meant so much more than a World Club Challenge could.
Never underestimate a legend. A God among insects. Freddy.
MP7: without the pressure, he is a marvel.
When Mitchell Pearce is unencumbered by expectation he is a marvel to watch. And granted, the Nines tournament is not the NRL, but my God is he impressive when he ad-libs and takes what the defence gives him.
The Nines, on day one at least, has proven to be a game that steppy halfbacks can thrive in. Albert Kelly was incredible, Chris Sandow looked great following a season from hell, and Shaun Johnson will have to soon take Earvin Johnson’s moniker with some of the showtime plays he can put on.
What no-one was expecting from MP7 though was for him to match their exploits and in many ways exceed them.
His passing game left-to-right is incredible at NRL level, but at the Nines it is pure ecstasy to watch. He can throw them 20 metres onto a sprinting man’s chest and support the ensuing break — as he did with the impressive Jonathon Reuben.
But he can throw them short as well, and when both are on it opens up his running game and gets the defence in not just two minds, but three or four.
At the end of the first half of the Parramatta game he went left, jinked, dummied, jinked back, dummied again and then grubbered to himself before batting it over the defence for a near-break — had the winger been able to handle it.
He also broke through in that game for a try off a dummy-to-left-foot step play that was beautiful to witness.
He may have been the stand-out of the tournament’s first day — especially when you consider how badly the Roosters played against Parramatta but how close they came to winning because of him.
If he ever decides to let himself off the hook from all the pressure he puts on himself, he’ll give himself his best chance to win an Origin.
Do the Roosters have a chance in this thing?
The Roosters should beat the Bulldogs, who have looked positively shithouse, today. And should the Eels beat the Broncos as expected, the Roosters will then progress to the playoff rounds alongside the Eels, who look built for this tournament.
Can they progress beyond that? Probably not.
They’d likely face the Titans (if the Titans finish first in their pool) and they look dynamite, especially with Albert Kelly in rare form. And even if they managed to progress past them, they’d have to face a team like the Warriors (the undisputed favourites) or the surprising Panthers.
But winning is not what this is about for the Roosters. It never has been.
It’s been about giving the youngsters such as Jackson Hastings a run — and boy does he look good.
It’s been about seeing what Kane Evans delivers — and that’s been tremendous go-forward, leg drive and speed.
It’s been about seeing what Jonathon Reuben, Rhyse Martin and Nene MacDonald can do alongside first-grade regulars.
It’s been about saving themselves for a greater honour: becoming World Club Champions.
But more than all that combined, it’s been about seeing the pride in the jersey, best epitomised by the guy wearing number 6 for the Roosters.