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The story that proves Cronulla-bound Fitzgibbon is a man for a crisis

Fitzgibbon’s time at the Roosters is nearing an end. After two decades at the club, as a player and then a coach, Fitzgibbon is preparing to take the head coaching role at Cronulla. Such is the love for the former NSW and Australian international at Bondi Junction that he was recently bestowed with life membership.

Craig Fitzgibbon is ready to take over at Cronulla.

Craig Fitzgibbon is ready to take over at Cronulla.Credit:NRL Photos

There were opportunities to leave earlier; the Knights, Warriors, Cowboys and Dragons had made approaches to make Fitzgibbon their head coach. In the case of the Red V, he knocked back a $2 million offer to replace Paul McGregor.

However, Fitzgibbon never considered extricating himself from his Roosters contract. It is why he will leave with Politis’ blessing.

“His word is his bond,” Politis said. “You couldn’t get a more dedicated or loyal person as a coach or as a player. He’s shown it all.

“He wanted a challenge so we wish him all the best. It’s good that he’s taken it. It’s getting to the stage where, financially, he needs to look after his family.

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“He said to me the hardest thing after 20 years is to leave because he’s so connected to the Roosters.”

Few understand that connection better than Brad Fittler.

“I had the pleasure of defending next to him for five years,” he said. “In four of those years, we went to grand finals.”

Fittler’s association with Fitzgibbon has continued well beyond their playing days. Fitzgibbon will remain part of Fittler’s NSW brains trust for this year’s State of Origin campaign, where he has brought the same passion he felt for his club.

“He’s always loved the game, knew the game, respected the game. He ticked all of those boxes,” Fittler said.

“There was a toughness in copping his knocks and hitting the ball up and all of that, but he would do it for 80 minutes, he wouldn’t stop.

“The other part was if there was a social event on, he was also the first and last to leave.

“That didn’t just mean drinking, it just meant any opportunity to be around the team, he was always there. He always chose the team.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by another former Roosters teammate, Anthony Minichiello.

‘You couldn’t get a more dedicated or loyal person as a coach or as a player. He’s shown it all.’

Nick Politis

“He’s as loyal as anyone can be,” Minichiello said. “You would want Fitzy by your side on the field because you know he wouldn’t let you down.

“He would be one of the first guys you’d pick if you were going to war, that’s for sure.”

When Fitzgibbon was honoured with life membership, in the Arthur Morris Room at the SCG in February, his long-time back-row partner Luke Ricketson was given the privilege of presenting it. Ricketson said one Fitzgibbon trait stood out above the others when they packed down in grand finals, Tests and Origin clashes.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played with a better big-game player in my career,” Ricketson said.

“The bigger the event, the better he played. I don’t think that flame burns out when you get to coaching.

“He has that ability to be liked by everyone inside or outside the club. That’s what will happen at the Sharkies, he will get the community on board.

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“He will be down at surf clubs, at beach events, he’ll get the community behind him because that’s what he does.”

Newman, whose son Adam was an inaugural host of the Shark Cast Podcast, was a fan of sacked coach John Morris. While he feels for the axed mentor, he couldn’t be happier for the man replacing him.

“The only bad thing is that I saw him at the pub once [after the accident], but he was leaving,” Newman said.

“I meant to catch up with him. I wanted to offer him a beer or say thank you.”

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