BY CURTIS WOODWARD
Long before Sonny Bill Williams snuck off to Sydney Airport in the middle of the night or Cooper Cronk replaced his beloved Melbourne jersey for the Tricolours – there was outrage bigger than any player transfer you could think of.
It is a Saturday in mid-September 1976.
Almost 58,000 fans at the Sydney Cricket Ground have just witnessed Manly-Warringah down Parramatta 13-10 to claim another premiership crown.
Manly’s captain, the late, great Bob Fulton was the James Tedesco or Tommy Trbojevic of his time.
This was his third grand final victory for the Sea Eagles.
But questions of his future swirled – many of them in Fulton’s own head.
Could he possibly leave Manly?
It would take a serious offer from serious men to wrestle the future Immortal out of the powerful grip of Manly’s Godfather, Ken Arthurson.
But even Arthurson and Fulton had a price when Kerry Packer came calling.
A young man named Nick Politis had also just started sponsoring the Roosters.
On the other side of the Harbour Bridge, Eastern Suburbs had put forward a massive offer to lure Fulton away from Brookvale Oval. There was a contract from Arthurson but it was nothing compared to what Easts were willing to pay.
Eventually, Arthurson told Fulton he had to take the deal.
“I hadn’t made my mind up until the end of season trip away and I met Kerry Packer,” Fulton told Alan Whiticker in his book Mud, Blood and Beer, Rugby League in the 1970s.
“I saw it as a challenge and the offer was too good to pass up.
“Manly gave a healthy offer, but it was surpassed by what Packer offered.”
It began a life-long friendship with Packer – all the while Arthurson had to watch his ‘favourite son’ pull on a rival’s jersey for the very first time.
“When I spoke to Ken Arthurson he said I had to take the offer,” Fulton added.
“He was a second father to me and he didn’t try to talk me out of it.
“We had that kind of relationship from when I was 16 and it stayed that way throughout my career.”
It seemed all these great businessmen understood exactly what this was… just business.
In 1978, Fulton returned to Brookvale, as the captain of Eastern Suburbs.
Manly won 15-12 with ‘Bozo’ scoring a try for the visitors.
But the premiership Easts were chasing under Fulton never came to fruition.
The Eagles won a famous grand final replay against Cronulla in ’78 without their greatest ever player.
Less than twelve months later, the great man’s playing career was over due to injury.
Fulton hung around Bondi as coach and steered the Roosters to the 1980 grand final but his return to Manly was imminent.
He was headed home for the 1983 season.
The legendary Fulton had finished his apprenticeship in the school of ‘footy business’ under some of the greatest teachers you could imagine. First Arthurson, then Packer and Politis.
Packer or Politis couldn’t knock him when they found out who he was taking back over the Spit Bridge with him.
Upon Fulton’s homecoming, Manly snared Easts stars Kerry Boustead, David Brown, Noel Cleal and Ian Schubert.
Just business, after all.