Why 'Fults' will go down as a Tigers great
It's prudishly ironic, or maybe contradictory even, that Liam Fulton hung up his boots on Thursday morning.
Because if he wasn't so widely known as Concord's resident comedian, if he wasn't so highly regarded as the NRL's ultimate prankster, then blokes who bleed orange, white and black would be waxing lyrical tonight and tomorrow about his admirable club ethos.
A man who put the team first. Someone who constantly put his body on the line. One of those one-club rarities. Yada, yada, yada.
"The good thing about him, what everyone loved about him, was that he put the club first. He put the team first. He played above his weight. A real team player, and that's why the boys loved playing with him," said club icon Todd Payten.
Problem is there'll probably be more than a handful of other mates who won't waste a second reprising Fulton's many pranks over his 12-year career.
Like when he cold-called new signing Gareth Ellis pretending to be a journalist and asked him to bring his English jersey for a photo shoot on his first day of training. Or when he turned the desk of an old football manager upside down and spun it in gladwrap. Or the endless amount of times he's driven teammate Keith Galloway or recruitment manager Warren McDonnell so far up the wall that the bloke they call 'Big Red' got slightly off-colour.
The truth of the matter is, however, that one of Fulton's last acts as a Tiger (he'll stick around with a clipboard for a while) was, to be frank, an utterly selfish one.
There were any number of good reasons for Fulton to play on.
Like sticking around for the once-in-a-generation talent the club hopes would fast-track into a premiership. Or the half a million (at least) that he's now left on the table, along with the two years worth of gags he now has to rework as a mere fan.
But the decision to give it all up was always going to be the toughest decision he's ever had to make. Because for the first time in his career, Fulton had to put himself ahead of his teammates.
And to do it after an era that would've snickered at the thought of a handful of concussions knocking a 29-year-old into retirement? Well, you might as well call Fulton a rugby league pioneer in keeping sense so common.
"At first he was pretty nonchalant about it and trying to crack jokes," said Payten.
"And then there were probably three or four of us that really told him to have a think about what he wants to do and listen to the medical staff because they were the experts. Myself, Benny Galea and Mark O'Neill spoke to him like that. After he went away for all those tests, I think he changed his mind in that time.
"It's weighed heavily on him. I've had several discussions with him over the past month, and all indications were that he was pretty keen to keep going, at least to me.
"So whatever come back from the doctor must've been pretty confronting. I think he made the brave and right decision for him and his family in the end."
So, on Thursday morning, after 178 first grade games, two City Origin jumpers, and a 12-year career that has earned him respect for life at the club, Fulton broke down in tears as he told his teammates his time was up.
And Payten insists they'll all miss the Greystanes junior – but not for what many would think.
"I think we'll miss both his sense of humour and his footy," said Payten, who has hounded his ex-teammate for years about outpacing him for a try in the 2005 Grand Final Fulton thought was his.
"But it's his work. He does a lot of work that goes unnoticed, he's a tackling machine. He's pretty calm in tense situations as well. He's just a natural footballer, he's always in the right spot doing the right thing, so they're going to miss that aspect of him for sure.
"And then there's that element which you can't put a gauge on, which is the respect he has amongst the group. He's not one to say a lot during meetings or whatnot but he led by his actions on the training paddock and in the gym. He knew the right balance between goofing around and knuckling down, which rubbed off on the players."
He's definitely a character, that Fulton. But he's a helluva clubman, too.