Nicholas Janzen,, NRL.com
Expectations don’t weigh down a bloke like Liam Fulton. The Wests Tigers’ stalwart utility forward, entering his 11th season a professional rugby league player, has never felt burdened by fans’ hopes and experts’ predictions while competing in the NRL. Fulton’s only ever felt excited and privileged to play rugby league in the world’s toughest competition – and that, he reckons, is what’s kept him at the top of his game for so long.
“I don’t really take life too seriously. Footy’s never been a chore to me and I’ve never really treated it as my job,” Fulton, who recently signed a contract extension that will keep him at the Tigers until the end of 2016, tells NRL.com.
“I just feel lucky to play and I think if you have that kind of attitude you can really kick on and achieve some of your dreams and realise your potential.”
An invaluable utility integral to new coach Michael Potter’s plans in 2013, Fulton has been a ‘Mr Fix It’ for the Tigers since making his debut in 2003. The tireless worker – a popular pick for Fantasy Footy fans – has played lock, second row, hooker, five-eighth and off the bench for his team during his 136-game career. One of the most colourful and well-liked players in the NRL, Fulton is now one of the most senior players in Potter’s forward pack following the departures of Gareth Ellis and Chris Heighington.
“We’ve got a lot of young new guys now and they’ve freshened the place up but to see guys like ‘Gaz’ and ‘Heighno’ leave… it’s always hard to see guys like that depart who have a lot of experience and respect both at our club and throughout the league,” Fulton admits.
“It’s good having that little bit of experience and being able to pass it on to the young guys, just talking to them about things I also experienced as a younger player… it helps keep you young, too. It’s great to have these young kids around – they keep you on your toes – and we’ve got a great bunch of young kids at the club now too. It’s fantastic times for the club.”
Off the field, Fulton’s interests are as varied as his positional play. He’s bred greyhounds, started a printing business and owned and operated interactive gaming vending machines.
“I had more but at the moment the only business interest I have outside of footy is the vending machines,” Fulton says.
“I had them with (former team-mate) Bryce Gibbs, but he ended up going to the Sharks so we split. He was getting a bit lazy, too – I had to sack him. I sacked him and I hired my brother, who’s working with me now. He does most of it – about 90 per cent – and I do maybe about 10 per cent, but we still get 50/50 ’cause I’m the boss.
“My brother’s much better [than Gibbs],” he continues, straight-faced. “He answers his phone when I ring him and he doesn’t come up with excuses like he’s too tired or his car’s broken down.”
This Sunday Fulton’s Tigers face their western Sydney arch-rivals Penrith. Following the “embarrassing” 42-10 loss to Newcastle in Round 1, Fulton and co. are determined to give their fans something to cheer about at Campbelltown on Sunday.
“There’s a lot of things we’ve got to work on – defence is the obvious one and Potter’s brought his defensive structures and what he wants to the club and we didn’t show it [against Newcastle]… It wasn’t good enough,” Fulton says.
“We’ll be putting in a big performance ’cause I know a lot of the boys like myself were embarrassed… we got touched up and we’ve definitely got to toughen up.”
“As a team we expect to make the top eight and maybe push for a top-four position. We’ve got a strong team and some great recruits and young players like Curtis Sironen… we certainly have the team to make the top eight.”
Fulton says his new coach – a noted disciplinarian – will help transform the Tigers from finals pretenders to title contenders.
“He’s a tough man, a fair guy, and there’s no mucking around with him,” Fulton says.
“He’s straight down the line and tells you exactly how it is, which is what the club needed, and he’s big on discipline and has great footy smarts – he’s exactly what this club needed and I think he’s added a lot to our squad and will take us in the right direction.”
That’s the direction Fulton’s heading in, too.