The rejuvinated Fitzgibbon remains on a 1-year deal with the Rooster – but after returning to State of Origin and Australian duties in 2008, there would surely be a number of local NRL clubs happy to sign him post 2009.
Retirement seems to be the last thing on Fitzgibbons mind; setting the scene for another dominating year. Surrounded by a new playing good at the Roosters, he has thrived on the improved results the Bondi club is seeing. Having new guys such as Willie Mason, Mark O’Meley and a talented group of young forwards – has allowed the backrower to reduce his tackling workload and be much more productive in attack.
Seen in a similar light to Nathan Hindmarsh at the Eels in recent times; Fitzgibbon became a tackling specialist. A work-a-holic player, that gave too much in defence to pose a threat in attack. But unlike Hindmarsh, Fitzgibbon chose to reinvent himself; reducing his defensive workload to because a real tackle buster with possession.
Someone with his experience knows where and when to hit the line; providing massive metres and showing the way for younger forwards. The introduction of new coach Brad Fittler has probably paid a part too in assisting Fitzgibbon to find old form; ensuring the whole team takes on defensive duties and not leaving it to the player most likely to cover.
At 31 years of age, Fitzgibbon now looks at things differently post 2009. Confirming he would be prepared to even look at other local NRL clubs should things not proceed past this year at the Roosters.
“I’m pretty open minded about it you know,” Fitzgibbon said.
“I look back in previous years with a bit of disappointment that I listened to other people who say ‘you’re on you’re way out’.
It’s interesting to hear Fitzgibbon talk about voices from the past. You can’t help but ask, “Who is he talking about?”. Previous mentors in recent years include Chris Anderson and Ricky Stuart – however, there were many sections of the League community saying the veteran backrower was past his prime.
“I got to the point where you do something about it, but I’ve also been lucky that our team performances have improved.”
Making his debut back in 1997, the goal kicking Fitzy can play several positions including lock, second row and even prop.
It seems getting the recall for NSW Origin was the spark that set Fitzgibbon off. The player confirming this week to Illawarra publications that playing State of Origin changed his whole outlook. The belief was back it seems; with Fitzy burying any demons from the critics that may have seeded in his mind.
“In years past if I’ve played rep footy I’ve sort of struggled after it, but last year I played a little bit better after it,” he said.
“It was good confidence-wise you know, getting a rep jersey.”
Fitzgibbon underwent surgery to correct niggling elbow and foot injuries at the end of last year, but said he was hopeful of playing in at least one trial game before the NRL season starts against the Rabbitohs on March 15.
The Roosters’ first trial game is against St George Illawarra in Perth on February 14.
Even though it will be only their first hit-out, Fitzgibbon yesterday said he expected the Dragons to be fired up for the clash in a bid to impress new coach Wayne Bennett.
“Yeah, they will,” he said. “Whenever I’m down at mum and dad’s (at Dapto), I breeze through the Mercury or bump into the Dragons boys when I’m out and about and there’s an air of confidence about them already.
“It just gets created when you’ve got someone like Wayne, who is a great coach and a good person and instills that belief in you.
“I had a couple of years under him with the Australian team and I know how he operates.”
At a time when the average age of NRL players continues to drop; with the likes of big money European offers, off-field incidents and even Union opportunities – Fitzgibbon continues to fly in the face of the trends. Reinvention, hardwork and a passion for the game – rare components these days in a dollar hungry game.