Mini's perfect Beetson symmetry
Like so many things good and proper in rugby league, Anthony Minichiello's career started with Arthur Beetson.
Artie and Mini.
They sound like a pair of travelling circus clowns. They are of course two of the finest Chooks to ever strut their stuff in the red, white and blue.
Now Minichiello rounds the last bend on bettering Luke Ricketson's club record of 301 first grade games and a final, 15th year spent pulling on the boots. And the deities that govern the greatest game of all have cooked up another one of those delightful pieces of symmetry that only rugby league can deliver.
One man, and one man only, has led the Roosters on a grand final victory lap in consecutive Septembers.
In 1974 and again in 1975, it was Beetson who lifted the JJ Giltinan shield to the heavens, the trophy in those days awarded to the grand final winners rather than first past the post in regular season.
Minichiello has already guided the proud foundation club to back-to-back minor premierships, a feat matched only by Beetson in 1974/75 and hardman Royce Ayliffe in 1980/81.
Should he keep the Chooks on track for a second title in as many years, he'll bow out of the game again standing alongside the seventh immortal. Right back where he started out as a 16-year-old collection of skin, bones and undeniable talent, being presented to the Roosters first grade squad by Beetson like a Southern debutante.
A 16-year-old who Beetson, renowned as one of the sharpest recruitment eyes in the game, needed less than half an hour to whack his coveted rubber stamp on.
"Mini was invited out to a trial at Henson Park, and he only had to play a certain number of minutes, not many at all, before Arthur had seen enough," recalls then lower grade coach and current Roosters CEO Brian Canavan.
"I can remember sitting with Arthur in the grandstand at that stage, and Arthur in those early days used to describe him as a pinball player.
"That was because of his ability to bounce and spin out of tackles and he's kept that right throughout his career, which is extraordinary given the number of games he's played at all levels."
So Big Artie, along with plenty of others in the Chook pen, went about sculpting and moulding the teenage pinball wizard he would go onto to declare his greatest ever recruit to the club in 2005. Imparting the knowledge accrued across four decades in the game, with Minichiello hanging on every word.
"He's a legend of the game, and he ended up a great mate of mine," Minichiello says.
"If he was giving you advice, saying something to you, you always took it in and listening with bated breath. He was just a wealth of knowledge.
"He's the guy that I looked up to. I didn't see too much of his playing days, but I've seen some highlights and what a player.
"Artie was such a great character and a great storyteller. When he speaks and tells those stories, everyone listens."
Listening closer than most was Minichiello. But the proof isn't in a pudding of 18 green and gold jumpers, another 11 in the sky blue of NSW, and a club record 137 career tries.
It's in how he wore each of those cherished jerseys. How he went about scoring that mountain of four-pointers.
"What Arthur had was an ability to transfer to players in key positions how to develop vision for the game," says Canavan.
"I can remember Arthur talking to Anthony as a fullback and a winger about keeping what's important in sight: 'Keep looking up, always looking up, don't look down.'
"And the other thing with Mini and Arthur was always 'keep driving your legs'. With his ability to hit and spin, bounce and all that, as soon as he bounces he's gone again."
When Minichiello graces the turf, that vision, that awareness is plain for all to see. It's there in the switcheroo play he and heir apparent Roger Tuivasa-Sheck pull out at will when pressing an opponent's line, more often than not sending the 34-year-old over in the right-hand corner.
The leg drive is in every kick return, every scramble to make the field of play and deliver his side from danger.
Off the pitch it's even more apparent. That vision and awareness of his standing in the game is why he was made the face of it at the start of the year. The time he has for everyone in the game, from the smallest fan to the biggest appendage-swinging official and all in between is without peer.
Canavan reckons Beetson was the most popular bloke he's ever seen in league. And hot on his heels comes Mini.
As for the drive, well that's what brought Minichiello back from the brink.
Not from the stinker of a pass he lobbed into the path of Robert Lui last weekend. Let the record show that within minutes afterwards, he defused two spiralling Johnathan Thurston bombs that were just about atomic in nature without skipping a beat.
Or the split-second decision against the Panthers a week earlier that proved to be the wrong one when Dallin Watene-Zelezniak flicked the ball back into play from under Minichiello's nose for the match-turning try.
Those two uncharacteristic blunders are small fry compared to where Minichiello's been during his time.
From the heights of being hailed the best player in the world and claiming the Golden Boot that goes with such a title in 2005, to the depths of a back injury that dogged him for all of 2006.
The same injury that resulted in bone being shaved from his spine and three weeks spent lying in agony during 2007.
In 2008 he was hauled off the training paddock by club medico John Orchard, who possessed scans revealing the same bulging disc in his neck that had forced the greatest of them all – Andrew Johns – into retirement.
And after three years of rehab and recovery, revolutionary weights programs and diets, the ligaments in his left ankle packed it in and confined him to the sidelines for four months of 2009.
The 63 games he missed over those four years would've taken Minichiello past Darren Lockyer as the most capped player in the game.
But it's the fact he's sat out just nine matches in the five years since that has him cherished above all others by his teammates.
"That's why Mini's so respected," says Chooks firebrand Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
"He's never taken the easy option. He's a man that's been through thick and thin, not only with the club but with his own performances and health.
"He's overcome those injuries, and as an athlete, you look at him and at one point he was pretty much down and out. For him to come back from that, it just shows the character of the guy to overcome those sorts of injuries and push on.
"I look at it now, and if he's not in the best form of his career, he's definitely playing consistently every week and up the top each week."
As the Tricolours went into last year's decider, Trent Robinson made sure they knew of Beetson's contribution to the halls of Roosters HQ.
So much so that the six men he had brought to the club that still remained; Mitchell Pearce, Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Jake Friend, Mitch Aubusson and of course Minichiello dedicated their premiership win to the big fella.
"Arthur just had such a wonderful life," Minichiello says. "He was loved by so many people. And he just had a presence about him.
"He would've looked down on us last year and probably gave us a smile. So we'll see what happens but hopefully we can do the same again this year."
The skipper won't say so himself, and the rest of the squad won't utter it in anything more than a whisper. But now just 80 minutes away from taking the field on that first weekend in October, there is one man in mind more than any other.
Anthony Minichiello. A man whose career starts and ends right alongside Arthur Beetson.
Two peas in a symmetrical pod.