Frustrated by the string of off-field incidents that have plagued rugby league and the Roosters in 2009, Fitzgibbon is adamant that NRL players have become public targets in recent times but with scrutiny at an all-time high believes it is on the field that the game’s tarnished image can be restored.
“I’m of the opinion that football is probably the saviour for a lot of these young guys,” the 32-year-old told NRL.com today.
“None of this off-field stuff really affects me but it probably does affect the young blokes.
“If they’re at home watching television and reading the newspaper at the moment they would probably go mad.
“Football gives them an opportunity to get out there and earn some credibility as well as try to get their mind off the things that are going on.”
The Roosters made headlines again earlier this week after Friend and Earl were charged with assault following an incident at Tank nightclub, while Cronulla halfback Brett Seymour was sacked following a third alcohol-related incident this season alone.
Fitzgibbon said that while there were plenty of occasions when players deserved whatever punishment came their way, it was also becoming increasingly difficult to go out in without members of the public looking to cause problems.
“It happens for sure,” he said. “I’ve seen it happen and I’ve had it happen to me.
“We’ve obviously got a problem integrating into society and I think we need to work to improve it but the problem is that if any young NRL players are out having a drink and maybe doing a bit of skylarking, the public sees them as young punks carrying on like pork chops.
“The truth is that they’re just young guys out there having a good time.
“People forget that there are plenty of idiots among the general public too – don’t worry about that.”
But asked how another week of unwanted headlines had affected the Roosters ahead of tonight’s clash with the Dragons, Fitzgibbon said the players had moved on and were looking forward to backing up last weekend’s much-needed 19-12 win over Cronulla.
“You would be surprised by how resilient our group is – we’ve learnt to put up with a fair bit over the years,” he said.
“To be perfectly honest, the way we’ve conducted ourselves at training all year has been really good even in light of everything else.
“We’re not indicating on the ladder how hard we’ve been working but in terms of off-field dramas we just get on with it.”
The Sydney Roosters still find themselves rooted to the foot of the NRL ladder but although a finals berth is almost certainly out of the equation they are at least eyeing a similar resurrection to that recently enjoyed by Cronulla.
“We’ve got nothing to lose now which probably makes us unpredictable and playing against unpredictable teams can be dangerous,” Fitzgibbon said.
“We’re just planning on being a thorn in the side of a couple of teams up the top of the ladder and seeing if we can shake things up a bit.
“And I don’t see why we can’t start by beating the Dragons tonight – it’s more of a danger game for them than for us.”
• Classy young Newcastle back-rower Cory Paterson is in line to make his long-awaited return to the NRL tomorrow following a self-imposed break from the game although veteran trio Kurt Gidley, Steve Simpson and Adam MacDougall are all in doubt.
• A number of Manly players are battling to overcome the flu ahead of Monday night’s clash with the Bulldogs.
• The Cowboys are confident of fielding representative trio Luke O’Donnell, Matt Bowen and Carl Webb against Cronulla tomorrow despite injury concerns for all three.