Malcolm Andrews reacts to a story that Brad ‘Freddy’ Fittler will come out of retirement to play for Sydney Roosters in next month’s NRL Nines in Auckland…
A happy New Year to all our devoted readers, although from reports filtering in from Old Blighty it has been a grim opening to 2014 – and I am not talking about your form on the cricket field. Wild winds, rain, floods, locusts and famine … um … I’m not quite sure about the locusts and famine.
After all this the Barmy Army, who have been stoically traipsing around to offer your cricketers some support in their darkest hour, have still found something to be pleased about.
The Sydney Sunday Telegraph reported that the founder of the Barmy Army, Paul Burnham, has explained how the daft fans have been keeping up their spirits.
“We’ve started ringing home a lot more,” he said. “Hearing how it is minus three degrees, with another storm setting in … that at least cheers you up while sitting in the sunshine.”
But it seems the Barmy Army’s craziness has rubbed off a bit on Australian sport … or is it just that the period over Christmas and New Year is known in the media as the ‘silly season’. A time when there are so few stories around that reporters, like drowning men, will clutch at any straws to fill the columns of newspapers and nightly television newscasts.
You know the type! Abominable Snowman sighted in Melbourne. Man bites dog. Elvis seen in Penrith. Who could forget the silliest story of all, in the now defunct Sydney Daily Mirror about a creature dubbed the ‘Flabbit’? It was a flying rabbit … and eyewitnesses swore they had seen one on the outskirts of Sydney.
I should point out that reporters on the Mirror at that time had a competition to see how many times they could get a quote from a certain eyewitness Yahoudi Gonzales in the pages of the tabloid. Yahoudi would regularly bob up in reports of earthquakes in Japan, floods in the United States, army coups in Central America, and riots at English football matches.
A swarthy photograph, allegedly that of Yahoudi, beamed out of the pages of Australia’s biggest rugby union magazine for which he was allegedly Argentine correspondent.
But, as is my wont, I have digressed again.
The latest story surfaced last week and concerned former Australian Test captain Brad Fittler. He is said to be set to make a Rugby League comeback in next month’s Auckland Nines.
So what if it is a decade since, in the words of the cliché, he hung up his boots? That was after 34 Test and World Cup matches, 31 State of Origin games, and 336 senior appearances for Penrith Panthers and Sydney Roosters. So what if he is a month shy of his 42nd birthday?
Other players almost as old have played in the past. Another former Aussie Test captain, prop Billy Wilson, retired in 1967, aged 40 years and 5 days. He had graced the rugby pitches of the world for 20 seasons, chalking up 228 matches for St George and North Sydney.
What about the front-row combination of Canterbury in 1948. It is said to be the oldest in history. Prop Henry ‘Tarzan’ Porter was 38, as was the so-called ‘Prince of hookers’ Roy Kirkaldy. The third member, prop Eddie Burns, was a mere 31 years old.
Another international prop, Tedda Courtney, was 39 years and 311 days when he played his last game, for Western Suburbs. The year was 1924 and he achieved some distinction by playing in the same team as his son Ed Courtney, who made his senior debut that season.
A couple of Test stars have come out of retirement to help touring sides decimated by injuries.
The greatest tryscorer in Australia’s domestic history, Ken Irvine, was reporting on the 1970 World Cup for the Mirror when, after the tournament, he was seconded into the Australian side that beat France 7-4 in a ‘friendly’ at Perpignan.
Then in 1974 Great Britain coach Jim Challinor played his first game in five years, when the Lions beat New Zealand’s South Island 33-2, at Greymouth.
And let’s not forget Steve ‘Beaver’ Menzies, who retired last year just two months before his 40th birthday. He played 349 matches for Manly and the Northern Eagles, 53 for Bradford Bulls and another 67 for Catalan Dragons.
Of course, Freddy Fittler will have to get the blessing of the NRL hierarchy if he is to play in Auckland. It is said he will sign for the Roosters on a $1 contract so the salary cap will not be affected.
It is also suggested that his presence may help the Roosters to be given some leniency to break the tournament rules over the number of top players they must field in their squad.
They had more players who turned out in the World Cup – 16 for seven different nations – than any club in the world, and at the time of the Nines they will be heavily involved in preparation for their World Club Challenge with Wigan Warriors in Sydney a week later.
Few people are taking the Fittler story seriously. Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett took the Mickey out of reporters who have dubbed his side Dad’s Army.
“I woke up and thought I had a New Year’s hangover,” quipped the teetotal Bennett about the Fittler yarn.
“Then I thought a little bit more, and thought he’d fit into our recruitment plans here, because we like those older players.
“He is probably a bit young for us yet. Another year or two and we could bring him here to the Knights.”
Good one, Benny!