‘Lifeblood of the game’: The retiree class of 2020 may not hold Immortals but they leave just as heavy a heartSeptember 14, 2020
BY CURTIS WOODWARD
Time catches up to all rugby league players eventually and again we will farewell a mighty class of men that we say au revoir to in 2020. But this class of retirees hits a little closer to home.
While in recent seasons we’ve said goodbye to names like Cooper Cronk, Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis – 2020 is a little different.
They may not be remembered the same way as some of the aforementioned future Immortals – but they will leave just as big a hole because of what they gave to the game and their respective clubs.
What do you think when you hear the names Gavin Cooper, Mitch Aubusson, Chris Lawrence and Aidan Guerra?
These are guys that every team is built around.
You need the superstars, the blokes that will win the Clive Churchill Medals and take up large chunks of the salary cap but the great rugby league sides are built on the shoulders of the 2020 class of retirees.
Throw in Joel Thompson who is off to the Super League and James Graham who has already returned to his homeland and there’s now a gaping hole in the heart of the sport in Australia.
They are the lifeblood of the game.
The ones coaches secretly love more than their superstar halfbacks and fullbacks.
For all Thurston’s outright talent and sheer brilliance, there wouldn’t be a Thurston/Cooper combination without Gavin Cooper.
In the 2015 grand final, Cooper topped the Cowboys tackle count.
He scored 72 tries (and a goal) for his beloved North Queensland.
Nobody remembers that because of everything else that happened that night in 2015 and the stars that stole the show.
“He’s one of the great contributors this club has ever had. To play the amount of games he has and the amount of time he has spent on the field is significant for me – he’s a guy that has played 80 minutes almost every game of his career, which I think has been understated,” Cowboys Director of Footy Peter Parr said on Cooper’s retirement.
Aubusson first debuted at the Sydney Roosters in 2007. As a lower grader he saw Ricky Stuart sacked and others come and go like Chris Anderson, Brad Fittler and Brian Smith. He was part of the resurgent Roosters that rolled through to the 2010 grand final behind young halves Mitch Pearce and Todd Carney.
“I’ve been blessed to play with some pretty special people here at the Roosters over the years, many I’m proud to call my closest friends, and I’d like to thank them,” Aubusson said at his press conference.
“To my current teammates, we’re a tight group and I’m so privileged every time I get to run out with you.”
That’s the thing. His teammates in years to come will get asked at pubs around the land about Tedesco and Keary, SBW and JWH. They’ll spin their yarns and take the free beers. But occasionally, someone will bring up Aubusson.
With a proud flex and a stiff upper lip, they’ll speak about Aubusson like he was their brother.
Trent Robinson brought in a new era at Bondi but the one constant was Mitchell Aubusson.
It doesn’t matter where you play Aubusson.
The Roosters club captain is an expert of no one position but a master of the game.
His most important role at the Roosters has always been how easy he made it playing in so many different spots.
The oil in the most expensive car in rugby league.
Just like Cooper, Aubusson is part of the 300 club.
On Saturday at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Aubusson becomes the most capped Rooster… ever!
Then there’s Chris Lawrence – the Eagle Vale boy who played tough and done good.
Lawrence could never play for another club other than Wests Tigers.
Through good times at Wests Tigers he was a gun. Just a cog outside Benji and company. The next big thing for the New South Wales Blues. It’s what he gave in the the dark days that makes him a club legend.
He never got to represent his state because of a horror hip injury.
That injury alone would have finished many players.
He came back and did, in fact, score a few Kangaroos jumpers but he was never the same. The club turned him into a second rower and he did his best and always ran the hardest lines on the field.
On top of breaking his hip, Lawrence’s face was literally broken in a training mishap. He came back again. He kept going.
Rugby league moves so quickly that we forget Aidan Guerra was a star when he left the Roosters to sign a big contract with Newcastle. Another of those players every club needs.
A premiership-winner with the Roosters in 2013, Guerra would play 10 games for Queensland between 2014 and 2017.
He’ll never get the accolades at the Knights but whatever they and Kalyn Ponga do in the next few years, it’s because fellas like Guerra changed the culture of the organisation.
One of those guys that helped others to success.
A bit like Ben Kennedy did for Manly-Warringah.
James Graham has gone back to the Super League.
The difference between someone like Graham and Joel Thompson is we may remember Graham more fondly because he played in more big games and was a larger-than-life character.
It’s hard to forget the viking warrior from Maghull.
Thompson though is another ’player’s player’ – just like Graham.
A professional but could have a good time off the field. He’s now a truly great ambassador for the work he’s doing away from the game.
Thompson is another you need in your side.
They may not be as big as names like Thurston, Cronk and Inglis but we’re still poorer in their absence in 2021.