Our next part of the interview series is here and we spoke to Matt ‘Sheep’ Fuller who played for the Canterbury Bulldogs, the St George Dragons, the South Sydney Rabbitohs, the Western Reds, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and the Western Suburbs Magpies. He spoke to us about his career, a surprise misconception during his Western Reds days and his successful fitness business among other things.
- You made your debut at the Canterbury Bulldogs at 18 in 1989; what were your nerves like heading into the contest and were you expecting to get the call-up?
All I ever wanted to do as a kid was to play first-grade rugby league. Making my first-grade debut was a proud moment for myself and my family. I played all three grades on the one day against the Roosters that afternoon. I made my first-grade debut in the centres, which was like a foreign language to me having played all my schoolboy rugby league at 6, 7 and 9. I remember only too well walking out of Belmore Sports Ground pretty tired and exhausted only to find a parking ticket on my car!
2. In 1995 you joined the Western Reds and later became captain; what did honour mean to you?
I loved playing at the Western Reds, it really felt like being at home with a great bunch of blokes. Peter Mulholland was my St Gregory’s College Campbelltown coach and the first-grade coach at the Western Reds. He had and continues to have a massive influence on my life as a mentor.
To this day, I don’t know how it was ever picked up that I became captain of the Western Reds as I was not. I felt like a leader on the field but never had the C against my name, but the story keeps evolving. I was very talkative on the field and was known for my sledging of which I enjoyed getting inside the opponents heads.
3. You moved to Wakefield for the second time in 1997 and won the First Division Final in 1998; what memories do you have of that success and of your time in Wakefield/England?
Wakefield Trinity in the north of England was a very special and rewarding time for me, having left Souths at the end of 1993 to play with “Wakey” in 1993/94 before joining the Reds in 1995. I was part of a team that beat Wigan at their home ground for the first time in 17 years and that year we fought off relegation (94). This was massive for the club. My second stint was after the Western Reds had folded was in 1997/98. At first, I was angry that the Western Reds had folded after having 3 great seasons, but returning to the UK and finding Wakefield Trinity in the first division with a mountain to climb to get back into the super league was a massive challenge.
Overall, I wouldn’t say we had a skilful team but we had a close group of lads and a great coach who worked very hard for each other. This time I held the C against my name and led the team to a grand final victory against Featherstone Rovers. Walking up the stairs to lift the premiership trophy felt very surreal. It meant a lot to the club and to myself that they got promoted back into the super league and remain there to this day. It was a very proud moment, hence, the naming of our second child, a baby girl, Trinity.
4. 1999 was your last year as a rugby league player with Western Suburbs; looking back on your career, did you imagine that you would have such a successful career when you made your debut 10 years prior?
Looking back on my career, I remember the great Terry Lamb once saying to me, “you cannot call yourself a first-grade footballer until you have played 100 first grade games of rugby league.” That desire and motivation never left me. From 1989 – 1992, I was in and out of first grade, mostly playing reserve grade. But from 1993 – 1999, I only played about 4 reserve grade games; the rest I played in first grade. Having played two full seasons in the UK, at one stage I thought the 100 club was going to be a tricky assignment.
Knocking back a great offer from Wakefield Trinity to lead the side into super league promotion in 1999 was a very difficult decision for me to make. But getting a call from the Magpies to play in the 1999 NRL season gave me an opportunity to reach my goal of 100 first grade games of which I did, under the great Tommy Raudonikis.
I feel blessed to have played the great game of rugby league. I owe the game everything. After rugby league I have put the lessons I learnt into my life and have been able to mentally adjust to a normal life, as nothing comes close to being a professional sportsman.
5. You manage the Fuller Fitness Training Centre, a successful and reputable training facility; what prompted your move into the fitness industry once you had finished your rugby league career?
I’ve been in the fitness industry for the past 17 years having set up a business from scratch, Fuller Fitness Subiaco. I’ve always loved the fitness side of the game of rugby league and stuck to what I knew. The business side, well that was a different ball game altogether at first, but after so long, I now have a pretty good handle on the running of the business and what it takes to be successful.
6. Telethon is obviously an organisation close to your heart; what prompted you to get involved with them and what did it mean to you to play such an active role?
Telethon is WA’s premier fundraising event for the community, held in October each year. All media outlets put down their bias and come together to help Channel 7 in one common goal; raising much-needed funds for distribution to different beneficiaries throughout the community to help the sick kids of WA. Telethon has given me a great focus and purpose and since retiring from rugby league this year will be my 8th, 24-hour non-stop physical challenge.
My team and I will be attempting a 24 hour non-stop spin class in Telethon’s 50 year anniversary. Over the years, my team and I have raised over $500,000 for the kids of WA. These physical challenges are my way of giving back to the community. My wife and I are truly lucky to have healthy children and over the Telethon weekend, we are reminded of this each year.
7. If you could give any advice to young, budding rugby league players and people in general, what would it be?
My advice to young rugby league players would be to look after their bodies and finances to the best of their ability, even if it means getting professional help. Learn from the lessons that you gain from playing rugby league; discipline, respect, physical and mental toughness and punctuality; and apply these to your life and you will remain mentally and physically strong through your transition to normality.
Give back as much as you can to the fans and kids of rugby league because after the pats on the back have stopped, you will need a new focus. Love your family, without them by your side retirement will be a lot harder.