“Forget the rest, just save ‘Bozo'."
Manly supremo Ken Arthurson’s plea to lifeguards after Bob Fulton and some of his Sea Eagles team-mates were caught in a rip was one of many light-hearted anecdotes told about the rugby league Immortal at his state funeral on Friday.
However, the dominant theme of the service at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, which was attended by a who’s who of the code, was the incredible bond Fulton shared with his wife Ann, children Scott, Brett and Kristie and eight grandchildren.
Fulton’s brilliance, determination and competitiveness have been well documented throughout a remarkable career that began when Arthurson recruited him from Wests in Wollongong in 1966 and included three premierships with Manly as a player and two as coach.
Former Sea Eagles team-mate Peter Peters, who grew up with Fulton in Wollongong and first played alongside him in the Wests under 9s, revealed that he had even predicted they would win a premiership together while watching St George do a lap of honour at the 1965 grand final.
They did so eight years later when Fulton scored two tries in the brutal 1973 grand final against Cronulla to lead Manly to back-to-back premiership triumphs.
Peters also spoke about how Fulton, who lost a secret battle with cancer on May 25, had quit coaching the Sea Eagles during the 1999 season after Ann was diagnosed with leukemia.
Fulton farewelled in emotional state funeral
“Bob said ‘I am devoting my life to make Ann comfortable and give her every opportunity to overcome her problem’. Those two together were a massive force,” Peters said.
“He was a family man. When he married Ann, he found his soulmate and he would do anything for her. They were just two people that were on the same path in life, and everything they did. In tennis, they couldn’t walk off at 6-6 - there had to be a winner.”
Brett Fulton said his father’s drive and devotion to his family had remained until the end.
“Mum, Kristie and [grandson] Ethan were sitting with dad the day before he passed and he woke to a nurse standing by his bedside,” Brett said.
“She said, ‘what do you do for a job?’ and dad said, ‘my job is to look after my family’.
“Dad was a worker. He was on the phone on the Friday - two days before he passed – and multiple people have said to me that they didn’t even know he was unwell.
“Dad was a trainer, he was in the gym a week before his passing. He was on the watt bike. I said to him, ‘what are you doing?’ and he said, ‘I have to get stronger for mum’.
“Mum and dad were inseparable, their love was visible for all to see. Through good times and bad they stuck together and had many, many, many more good times.
Hasler pays tribute to close friend Fulton
“Dad loved competition. He was the most competitive person I have ever met. From cards to arm curls he would challenge anyone, and he would win most times.
“He said to me early, ‘treat everyone with respect until they no longer deserve it'. He would back his mates until the end, but cross him and all bets were off.”
Daughter Kristie also paid tribute to her famous father, who loved spending time in the bush and taught his children and grand children how to surf, ride motorbikes, fish and drive.
“You bred us tough; we had to be. From a young age people used to celebrate or berate us for being related to a well-known rugby league identity,” she said. “It made us strong, resilient and immensely proud of you.
“A rugby league Immortal is defined as being the ‘greatest ever’. Dad, you’re an Immortal not just in the sporting world but in the eyes of your family, friends and those you inspired for over 50 years.”
Fulton was described as a “mentor” by family members, including grand children Ethan, Kobe and Jorja, who had penned tributes that were laid on his casket as members of the NSW Origin team and the entire Manly squad formed a guard of honour.
The packed funeral included many whose lives and careers he had influenced.
Among those in attendance for some of the greatest players of their era, including Royce Ayliffe, Ian Schubert, Greg Alexander, Noel Cleal, Ron Coote, Bob McCarthy, Ben Elias, Brad Fittler, Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley, Andrew and Matthew Johns, Mal Meninga, Steve Mortimer, Paul Sironen, Steve Roach, Garry Jack, Mick Cronin, Darryl Brohman and Mark Geyer.
ARLC chairman Peter V'landys and NRL CEO Andrew Abdo were joined by Arthurson and former administrators John Quayle, David Gallop, Geoff Carr, Colin Love and Frank Stanton, while NSW deputy premier John Barilaro was among the large political contingent.
The Sea Eagles were represented by chairman Scott Penn, CEO Stephen Humphreys, coach Des Hasler and former players, including Geoff Toovey Mal Cochrane, Max Krilich, Mark Geyer, Jack Elsegood, John Hopoate and Michael Monaghan.
Alan Jones, Ray Hadley and Peters delivered eulogies.
“In 1965, along with some mates who are here today, I travelled to the SCG by train with Bob and we watched South Sydney play St George in the grand final,” Peters recalled. “St George won in front of 78,000 and we sat on the top of the Sheridan Stand and watched the game.
“At the end of the game when they were doing the lap of honour, he said ‘Zorb, we will do that together one day’. I said, ‘Yeah Bob, of course’.
“In 1973, when he scored the only two tries that Manly scored [in the grand final] … as we were doing the lap of honour with the JJ Giltinan Shield, he put his hand on my shoulder and pointed to the roof of the grandstand and simply said, 'I told you'.
74. Bob Fulton - Hall of Fame
"Bob became a professional before everyone. He had a gymnasium in his home he spent a lot of time in. He was a fitness fanatic before his time."
Born in Stockton Heath, Fulton migrated from England at three years of age and left school at the age of 15 to help his family by working as an apprentice boilermaker at Port Kembla Steelworks before being recruited by Arthurson.
He became one of the game's greatest players and was among the first four Immortals selected in 1981, along with Clive Churchill, Reg Gasnier and John Raper.
Fulton played 219 matches for the Sea Eagles, 56 for the Roosters and 16 for Warrington, as well as 35 Tests for Australia, which included three World Cup triumphs.
As a coach, he oversaw 383 premiership matches for the Roosters and Sea Eagles and 39 Tests, including two victorious World Cup finals.
He was also a long-serving selector for NSW and Australia.
"I think the congregation here today is a metaphor for the life of Bob Fulton," Jones said.
"There are people here today who knew Bob well. There are people who knew him marginally well. There are perhaps others who never met him.
"This remarkable man entered the lives of everyone, by his accomplishments and through his modesty and self-effacement."