Friends, family and former teammates were on hand at the 2021 Annual General Meeting at the Sydney Cricket Ground to witness the crowning achievement of Craig Fitzgibbon - who was presented with Life Membership of the Club.
One of thirty currently active Life Members of the Sydney Roosters, Fitzgibbon was surrounded by a number of Roosters greats, as well as past and present players to offer their tributes, including fellow Life Members Brad Fittler, Luke Ricketson, Cooper Cronk, Trent Robinson as well as the most-capped Rooster of all time, Mitchell Aubusson.
Fittler, who played a number of seasons alongside Fitzgibbon, reminisced on his playing days and spoke highly of the backrower's work ethic and courage on the field.
“We stood next to each other on the field – he defended inside me – so I got to see first-hand the character of Fitzy from the time he was there to the time I left," Fittler said.
“There was no better person to be next to under pressure if you needed anything. He had courage, fitness, whatever you needed he was there. He made my job so much easier.
“When you train people to deal with pressure you tell them to back their instincts and go to where it is hardest, whereas he just had this work ethic that made me need to hold him back. Most people you have to push, but I had to hold him back.
“I don't think many of the people who turned up today were aware of him getting a Life Membership, but if it was open to anyone to come to see him get this honour you’d have an incredibly diverse group of people in the room because he relates to everyone.
“He just has an incredible character from that point of view. He’s always willing to give his time and effort and that’s not a common thing in a lot of people."
The accolade is nice but I feel like I’m only standing here due to the people here, who played such a huge part in allowing me to be here for so long. I’m forever thankful and grateful for their input in my life as a player and coach.Craig Fitzgibbon Sydney Roosters Life Member
Described as his 'right-hand man', Roosters Head Coach Trent Robinson was full of praise of Fitzgibbon, who has spent nearly a decade alongside him in the coaches box and explained his decision to hand the 228-gamer the reigns of defensive coach in 2013.
“It was very important about understanding the history of the Roosters and tying it back into the past, and there’s no greater modern player than Fitz to cover a few different levels," Robinson explained of his recruitment of Fitzgibbon.
He’ll go down as one of the great Roosters of all time.Cooper Cronk Roosters Life Member
“I needed a defensive coach, someone that had a love for it and not just a technical knowledge for it, but I needed somebody who understood the culture and what a team needed to come together. I wanted a winner as well, to show everybody on the coaching staff what it took to win.
“To be a really good coach, you’ve got to let go of your playing career, build up your coaching style and then put your career back on top of it. That’s what Fitz has done.
"He hasn’t started coaching and tried to rely on his coaching career, he worked really hard – as he did as a player – to understand what it meant to be a coach, and then he added back on that winning nature and that fire that he’s got in him. It makes him pretty special.
Dual Premiership winner Cooper Cronk spoke fondly about his time playing both with and against Fitzgibbon in the formative years of his career and elaborated on his experience playing under his tutelage.
“I just remember trying to stay away with him both with the ball and without it, because he’s a man and I was a little boy at that stage,” Cronk laughed.
“He was physical, he was tough, he was uncompromising and he never gave up.
“Now as a coach that’s probably his greatest strength – he passes on some real resilience and mental and physical strength to the players he coaches. He’s the ultimate team guy.
“It’s fitting that the whole football Club is here, because without Craig Fitzgibbon the Roosters aren’t what they are today without his input.
“He’ll go down as one of the great Roosters of all time."
Considering Fitzgibbon as a mentor of his, Mitchell Aubusson - the most capped Rooster of all time - began his career as Fitzgibbon's was coming to a close, playing three seasons alongside the sharpshooting backrower, who he now also considers a friend.
“He was my first ever captain here at the Roosters, He’s a leader of men and a guy who led really well. He was the ultimate competitor," he said.
“He’s a guy who worked really hard on his craft as he did as a player. He taught us a lot about the game and what he thought about the game. If you had a bad game you didn’t want to face Fitz because you didn’t want to let him down
“In my mind, he’s my mentor. He’s a guy I look up to, he’s a guy I strive to learn from a lot. He teaches me a lot and is a guy with who I’m in constant contact both in and out of football and he’s a mate.
“I’m so proud to be here today to see him get what he thoroughly deserves in a Life Membership."
Former captain and current board member Luke Ricketson elaborated on the Club's decision to anoint Fitzgibbon the newest Life Member, touching on the Australian and NSW representative's contribution to the Club over the past two decades.
“I’m overjoyed by hearing the news. I can’t think of anyone in the last 20 years that’s done more than Craig Fitzgibbon,” said Ricketson.
“He’s played in four grand finals and has been on the coaching board for three, so that’s seven appearances in 20 years. He’s contributed immensely.
To be a really good coach, you’ve got to let go of your playing career, build up your coaching style and then put your career back on top of it. That’s what Fitz has done.Trent Robinson Roosters Head Coach
“He brought some real professionalism with him. He was a big game player at the end of the day. The harder the game was and the bigger the game got, the better he played. You knew going into those big games that he would perform.
“He’s everything you want in a teammate and I’m proud of him getting this honour today.”
Fitzgibbon, with family and friends in tow, admitted he was initially humbled to hear the news from Roosters CEO Joe Kelly, and paid tribute to the Club and those around him for his achievements.
“I’m very honoured and humbled. It’s been such a privilege to be involved in such a special Club for ten years as a player and ten years as a coach," he said.
“It’s been a great day. To have my mum, dad, wife and kids here was pretty special.
“It stunned me a little bit, to be honest – you don’t know how to react by getting a bit of news like that. The accolade is nice but I feel like I’m only standing here due to the people here, who played such a huge part in allowing me to be here for so long. I’m forever thankful and grateful for their input in my life as a player and coach.
“It’s very hard to put in a couple of sentences. We love what we do for such a great Club but the people make it happen.
"We adhere and acknowledge our history and the players that laid a platform for us.
"We’ve only got a small piece of history and a small chunk of time to do what we can with it, but it’s important to acknowledge the people that have put us in a strong position as a Club, on and off the field."