Where Are They Now: Brett Mullins
Even now, almost nine years since his final game, Brett Mullins still feels a flutter whenever the Roosters meet the Warriors.
Best remembered as Australia’s premier fullback during much of his 11-year career in Canberra, Mullins experienced the fairytale farewell most players only ever dream of after coming out of retirement in 2002 to link with former Raiders team-mate Ricky Stuart and help the Roosters to their first premiership in 27 years when they downed the Warriors 32-8 in the grand final.
“It does bring back plenty of memories and I’m hoping the boys get up again this weekend too because I still follow the Roosters and Raiders,” Mullins said.
“They’re not going too well, both my sides this year, and I’ve been copping a lot of ribbing!”
Although he won a premiership with the great Canberra side of 1994, Mullins still considers that 2002 grand final win as the crowning moment of a career that spanned 209 games in the NRL, five Tests and five Origin appearances for NSW.
“It was particularly special because I was older and more mature,” he explained. “When I was at the Raiders, we had so many great players around us and I was only a young kid as well – I just took things for granted. When I came back to the Roosters, I’d had a lot of injuries and I had to work hard at physio all the time just to stay on the paddock. To win a grand final at the end of that was very rewarding. I think I worked a lot harder for that grand final than I did for the other one.”
Ironically, Mullins very nearly declined the offer from Stuart – who had just taken over from Graham Murray as Roosters coach – to return to the NRL after one injury-plagued season in England with Leeds.
“I didn’t even give [winning a premiership] a thought at the start of that year because I had actually retired over in England,” he recalled. “I had a bad couple of years there with injury so I called it quits after about 11 months. Then Ricky got the job at the Roosters and gave me a call to see if I was keen to play.
“I actually told him ‘No’ to start with, ‘I’m sick of all the injuries’. He asked me ‘What if you weren’t injured?’ and I said ‘I’d love to play’. One thing led to another, I came home, went to Sydney to start the rehab and physio – and ended up being a grand final winner.
“It was a good year for me.”
In his prime, Mullins was one of the game’s most lethal fullbacks. As graceful as a gazelle, he scored 105 tries during his time in the nation’s capital (plus a further 17 with the Roosters in 2002) and formed a lethal combination with Stuart that at times bordered on telepathic.
“Yeah, we had a few calls that I’d give Rick or he would give me,” Mullins said.
“It just seemed to work well where Rick would be halfway through a 20-metre pass going left, I’d give him a call and next thing you know he has flicked it or kicked it back in my direction. Ninety-nine times out of 100 it hit me on the chest or bounced up for me.
“But what can I say about playing in that Raiders side? It was very easy! Put it that way.
“There was always a person wherever you looked with the ability to change a game – from your front-rowers to your hookers all the way through the side. You just had to make sure you were in the right spot at the right time and there was always an opportunity for you. I was very spoiled as a young rugby league player coming up into that side.”
Mullins’ latter years with the Raiders weren’t quite so fruitful as injuries took hold and he eventually fell out with the hierarchy after an on-field disagreement with team-mate Mark McLinden.
It wasn’t, he says, the way he envisaged departing a club at which he had given 11 years of service.
“It was disappointing but things change at clubs and different people get in there,” he explained. “Loyalty went out the door. I stayed loyal to them for all that time and then I was shown the door.
“They gave me a bit of a send-off to make themselves look good in the eyes of a lot of people but I was basically shown the door, so I ended up going to Leeds.
“That last few years with Canberra I had a lot of injuries, my fitness fell away and I lost a lot of speed because I hadn’t done a lot of training… but once I got back on the paddock with the Roosters things got better in the end.
“And I can’t complain. I had a great time in Canberra, made a lot of great mates, won a premiership… I played 11 seasons there, had a great time under a great coach in Tim Sheens who moved me back to fullback and of course I played alongside guys like Ricky, Mal (Meninga), Laurie (Daley) and Brad (Clyde), so I was very blessed.”
Life isn’t too bad for Mullins post-footy either.
Now living in Newcastle and enjoying the infinitely warmer weather than during his time in the nation’s capital, he co-owns the Gunyah Hotel in Belmont with his brother-in-laws as well as running a beer truck out to Singleton a few days a week.
“I was already involved in a pub up in Newcastle before I finished playing and then the brother-in-laws and in-laws moved up this way and got involved in a pub so I became involved as well,” he said.
“Then because I was up this way there was a beer run up for sale so I thought I’d take that as well.
“I enjoy it and it’s not too taxing – most of my time is taken up just driving the kids around with footy and I’m in the truck three or four days a week for beer deliveries.
“I’ve got four kids (aged between four and 15) so they keep me busy but I enjoy what I’m doing – you’ve got to do something you enjoy otherwise you’ll go mad. I’m keeping busy, that’s the main thing.”
Although he doesn’t have as much time as he would like to watch the footy these days, Mullins still keeps a keen eye on happenings around the NRL.
Paying tribute to his old Raiders No.1 jersey, he admits to being a huge fan of rising star Josh Dugan.
“I got the chance to go down and have a couple of quiet drinks with the State of Origin side before the first game and had a chat with him,” Mullins said. “I’m impressed with the way he conducts himself and I thought he had a good game. He looked dangerous.”
And as for the Roosters, Mullins will be closely watching his old team-mate Anthony Minichiello this weekend who needs just one more try to break the club record set by Mullins’ father, Bill, for most career tries (the two are currently level on 104).
“He’s been getting close for a couple of years, Mini, but has slowly equalled it and Dad would be happy with that,” Mullins said.
“He likes ‘Mini’ and if anyone is going to break his record he’s very proud that it’s him. Hopefully he can get it this weekend.”