The date is the fifth of September, 2011. The Wests Tigers are bound for the semi-finals and it is fans’ day at Tigers training. Everyone wants to see, talk to or touch only one person.
A certain enigmatic Kiwi five-eighth. Well, two people.
Captain Robbie Farah, snared as a cub from the Canterbury junior ranks and now a Tiger for life, also has an army of eight year-olds chirping at his feet.
The rest of the squad is also made available for the 90-minute session with the fans on a sunny Monday afternoon at Concord Oval.
Most players are milling about, clutching bottles of water and sharing a joke. Most are also succeeding in looking nothing other than awkward when approached by a child and their parent.
Most. Not Liam Fulton.
Fulton is leaning on a fence, legs crossed over and available to talk to anybody who cares to approach. He looks every bit the down to earth boy from the western suburbs. He looks every bit the boy who still calls the western suburbs home.
Those that do approach the unassuming 27-year-old feel like they are talking to their father, their brother, their son. The look on peoples’ faces after a few minutes chatting with him says it all.
Fulton mostly gets noticed by the media and fans when he scores a try. He also gets noticed when he dives to score a try only to discover that the ‘ball’ he was diving at was an unremarkable patch of turf. Severe concussion can do that to you.
While the media and fans notice others ahead of Fulton, do not be fooled. His teammates and his coach always notice.
His teammates and his coach notice Liam diving selflessly on a loose ball. His teammates and coach notice Liam desperately grasping a limb of much larger opponents to bring him down. His teammates and coach notice Liam backing up on the inside when the opposition’s defensive line is busted apart.
His teammates and coach notice, appreciate and respect everything about Liam Fulton.
Fulton, a comparative lightweight in an age of behemoths, still manages to survive and prosper. So highly is he thought of at the Tigers, that after being squeezed out of the club for salary cap reasons in 2009 and spending the year in the UK Super League, Tigers management came calling for his services again in 2010.
That Fulton understood the circumstances and was willing to return to the club where he won a premiership is a credit to his attitude. It is a priceless attitude that every successful club thrives on.
Perhaps Fulton’s impact on his team is best summed up by one of his own. Benji Marshall, writing for the Sun Herald after the Tigers defeated St George-Illawarra in week one of the 2011 finals series, had this to say about his teammate:
“I’d like to make special mention of Liam Fulton, who I thought was unbelievable. He goes against everything a footballer should be – he’s not the biggest, he’s not the strongest in the gym, he doesn’t look athletic with his shirt off.
“He weighs only 96 kilograms. But he puts that body on the line every week, he makes his tackles and I have never played with a second-rower who runs a better line. He is so talented.”
That’s who he is. That’s what he does. That’s Liam Fulton.