Luke Keary won the Clive Churchill Medal some time on the previous Sunday night, between his ears.
He was special through grand final week. Incredibly single-minded about what he needed to do. He knew that there were going to be some moving pieces around him at different times, but he decided how he was going to play, no matter what.
That brought a calmness to our group, and to him. His chess piece wasn’t going to move, whether Cooper played or not.
He made that decision some time on Sunday night, between Cooper’s injury and walking in on Monday morning. ‘This is how I’m playing.’ That’s when the medal was as good as won.
Luke, who was coming off a difficult couple of seasons at Souths when he joined our club, is the same guy who first walked in the door at the Roosters: an intelligent footy player and person. He is very gifted with the game vision he has and he’s a very tenacious competitor.
He’s always been excellent at playing the moment, but now he’s also very good at playing what I call the long game. He can see distinct areas in games, as well as moments, and that’s the experience that he’s now got shining through. He’s become a game manager, which we saw in the last two games when it mattered most. That’s thanks to his own individual development, plus the influence that Cooper has had on him.
Luke set the tone in grand final week. So did our co-captains, Boyd Cordner and Jake Friend, as they have all season.
Boyd and Jake are character guys. Action-based.
They’re very hard trainers, very strong mentally. They’re ethical players; they’ll always do the small things well, not just look for the flashy plays. That filters down to every player, and that’s where trust builds with every single guy in our group. They see those actions and think, ‘If the captain’s doing it, I must have to do it.’
They lead by example but they’ve got strong words, too. They are very good talkers – leading up to the game, pre-game, half-time. They don’t over-talk, but they get their point across.
Jake and Boyd fit the mould of what people refer to as ‘glue’ guys – the ones who hold it all together, whether they’re big names or not.
Above all at the Roosters, Mitchell Aubusson is that guy.
In our dressing room, Mitch is the symbol of what the club is. If his thoughts on the team are a certain way, we know that’s what’s right. He’s our litmus test.
Different people add different things. The experienced guys bring leadership. But you need the young guys coming in and adding their values as well – Joey Manu, Victor Radley, Latrell Mitchell. Youth is such an important part of a group of people. There’s a rawness about it which played no small part in getting our community of 208 people to our end goal.
THE BONDI WALL
There’s no doubt that the two best defensive teams got to the grand final. Perhaps that tells you all you need to know about its value.
You must have great principles to build a great defence. That’s undeniable. You have to make it live and breathe. It’s got to have a heart to it. Then, you’ve got to build players who can adapt their principles on the run.
It was significant that even with Cooper’s injury, he was never really exposed in defence. Mitchell Aubusson and Joseph Manu were right beside him.
The trust that players have within those edge combinations, there doesn’t have to be much said; they just perform their role. But in a great defence, there’s another level to it. The sense of community tells them, ‘I will look after my mate. I know my individual role, but I’m good enough to add a little on here and look after my teammate.’
Some guys can go into their shell in big games, thinking that they’ve got plenty on their plate and they’ll be OK if they only perform their role. When the selflessness comes in, and they decide to protect the players around them, that’s when you get special performances.
We got those in the last two games. Except for one intercept pass, we didn’t concede a try.
There’s a lot of Craig Fitzgibbon in what we do defensively. He’s had a huge part to play in how we’ve gone about things, technically defending but also visually defending. With making our defence live and breathe. We’re very much a tag team in the way we do that; that’s why we have assistant coaches and he is outstanding in the role.
Fitzy once served the Roosters with distinction as a player. Now, he has that new responsibility within our community and he’s one of the unsung heroes. One of the 208 who got their job done.
The real joy of the grand final win is that community. After the game, seeing all those people who contributed and the glow that the achievement brings to their lives.
That’s what it’s all about.