I must confess to having under-estimated Brad Fittler, when he was thrown into a leadership role during the Super League War in the 1990s.
To me, he wasn’t a great orator or a deep thinker, and therefore wasn’t the right person to be enunciating the Australian Rugby League point of view, against the rebel Super League.
He was a worthy on-field captain, in terms of his playing achievements, and his ability to lead teammates into ‘battle’.
But as a front man for the traditional game… Well, I had my concerns.
Even today, ‘Freddy’, as Fittler is more widely known, can be difficul to understand at times, because he is guilty of mumbling.
But he makes sense, and speaks his mind, just as he did as captain of the Australian side in 1997.
I attended a media conference in Brisbane, ahead of the 1997 match against a ‘Rest of the World’ side at Suncorp Stadium. The ARL were trying to build interest in the clash, which was cobbled together, as some sort of counter to Super League, which had the major league countries – New Zealand, Britain and France – on their books. Fortunately, the ARL had contracted a number of overseas players, so they were able to assemble a World side.
At the media conference, a number of journalists, understandably, went on the attack over the legitimacy of the World match.
Australian coach, Bob Fulton and ARL CEO, Geoff Carr did all they could to talk up the game.
But ‘Freddy’ was brutally honest.
‘Whether you can call it an international, I don’t know,” Fittler said. “But if you ask me whether it is a good game, I’m sure it is.”
To this day, the match is in the records as a Test, and, to be fair, it was a decent contest, with the Mal Reilly coached World side leading 8-6 at halftime, before the Aussies stormed home, to win 28-8.
The following year, when the NRL was born as a result of the peace deal between Super League and the ARL, Fittler graciously handed the Australian captaincy back to Laurie Daley, who had been Super League’s Test skipper.
In 1999, Fittler was reinstated as Test captain, and led the Kangaroos in the end of season Tri-Nations, and then was in charge for the 2000 World Cup in Europe. I covered both campaigns for News Ltd., and ‘Freddy’ did an excellent job, whether mixing with the fans, or royalty, as was the case in 2000 in London, when the team was introduced to Prince Andrew.
In 2011, with the help of noted author, Ian Heads, Fittler published ‘The Fittler Files’, his (2011) season on the sidelines, with 100 or more of Freddy’s own, behind-the-scenes photos.
I bumped into him during the pre-season, as he attended a Broncos training run at Colmslie Sports Centre, an all-weather complex the Broncos had hired, given Brisbane was being lashed with flooding rains.
His thoughts on the season were considered, and of course, carried plenty of weight.
For instance, when Darren Lockyer announced 2011 would be his last season, Fittler wrote that the most powerful thing about The Broncos, Queensland and Australian skipper’s decision was that he was doing it on his own terms.
“In his quiet way, he no doubt paused, considered and decided that the end of 2011 was the right time for him,” Fittler wrote. “It was all done without fuss – so different from cricketing equivalent, Ricky Ponting, who found himself in the headlines, week after week. Would he, or wouldn’t he, wondered the media.”
I covered Locky’s retirement press conference for The Courier-Mail, and had to write five stories for the following day. That’s how big Lockyer was in Queensland in those days.
It was supposed to be my day off, but Broncos’ media manager, Trad McLean rang to say I should make the effort to get to Broncos Leagues Club. Robert ‘Crash’ Craddock and I interviewed Lockyer after the all-in media conference.
I got home in time to see the last 20 minutes of North Queensland’s 34-6 win over previously unbeaten Melbourne Storm in Townsville, with Johnathan Thurston, Dallas Johnson and Ash Graham in great touch for the Cows.
FoxSports commentator, Laurie Daley, said he would have to do a nude run, his tipping was so bad.
‘Freddy’ always got along OK with the media, and it was hilarious to see a photo of the Cronulla press box in his book. I covered a host of games at ‘Shark Park’, where the press facilities were just adequate. Buy hey! I had covered games standing on the sidelines at Brisbane suburban grounds back in the early 1980s. They were literally, my seasons on the sidelines.
1 Brad Fittler’s book
2 The media box at Shark Park (from left) Adam Lucius, Tony Adams, Nathan Ryan and Joe Barton
3 Australia’s Geoff Toovey (left) and Paul McGregor tackle Kiwi, Darren Rameka in the match against the Rest of the World.