Bob Fulton AM
All Australian sports fans know that Bob Fulton had an exceptional rugby league career.
Team of the Century, Immortal, 35 Tests, seven Tests as Australian captain, two Kangaroo tours to England and France, three World Cups, 1971 Australian tour to New Zealand, 1975 World Series, 263 first grade games, 147 NRL tries and three Premierships with Manly prove just what a great player he was. Add to this, 40 Tests as Australian coach over a 10 year period, 405 games as coach of Manly and Easts, plus many years as a City, NSW and Australia selector and you realise just what an impact he had on the game since joining the Manly club as a 18 year old for the 1966 season. His service to the game continues today as he is currently an Australian selector with Darren Lockyer and coach, Mal Meninga.
Bob’s first top grade game for Manly against North Sydney on 2 April 1966 was at Brookvale Oval, now known as Lottoland. His first try for the club came at Kogarah Oval six weeks later on 15 May in the 34-15 loss to St. George. In 1967, he made his debut for both City Firsts and NSW. Altogether, he played 17 matches for NSW against Queensland, scoring 14 tries and nine games for City Firsts (3 tries).
He played his first Test in the 1968 World Cup against New Zealand when he came off the bench at Lang Park, Brisbane on 1 June in the 31-12 win. He scored two tries in the 37-4 win over France at the same ground a week later and just two days after this, on Monday 10 June, at the Sydney Cricket Ground, played a key role in the final, when Australia again defeated the Frenchmen by 20-2. Bob’s last Test was at the Stade de Minemes Toulouse, against France on 10 December 1978. He finished with 25 tries and six field goals (82 points) in his 35 Tests.
Nicknamed Bozo, he also played in 22 non-Tests for Australia in which he finished with 28 tries. He played in two winning World Cup finals (1968 and 1970), as well as the 1975 World Series success. In the 1972 World Cup Final at Lyon on 11 November, Bob was five eighth in the Australian side who drew 10-all with Great Britain after extra time. Britain were declared the winners after their better results in the lead-up games.
In early July 1968, a few days before the World Cup final at the SCG, while doing his National Service, Lance Bombadier, Robert Fulton, was five eighth for the Combined Services Rugby Union team against the All Blacks at North Sydney Oval.
What is not so well known about the blond haired five eighth, is the huge success he had at a young age.
An excellent example of this occurred at the old Sydney Sports Ground on 3 September 1967. The Australian Rugby League decided to hold a special Sydney-Country game late in the season to help the selectors choose the 1967 Kangaroos. Although still only 19, Bob was the Sydney captain/coach and the youngest player from both teams. He missed out on the 1967 Kangaroo team but this was a mistake by the selectors, as he showed in the World Cup the next year.
He was born in Warrington England in December 1947 and came to Australia as a small boy. The family settled at Unanderra which is around eight kilometres south west of the Wollongong business district. Bob attended Unanderra primary and then Dapto High School, while he also began playing rugby league with the Western Suburbs under 10s. In those days he made several age group Illawarra representative teams and while at Dapto High from 1959 to 1961, he represented NSW schools in each of his three years.
In 1959, he was a member of the NSW 6 stone team (38 kgs), 1960, 7 stone 7 pounds (48 kgs) and 1961, 9 stone (57 kgs). At the SCG on 16 July 1960, Bob was a member of the NSW schools team which beat Queensland schools 8-3. Bob played in the centres with Ken Maddison, who went on to play 4 Tests and in the 1973 Grand Final with Cronulla, was five eighth. This schoolboy match was a curtain raiser to the third Test in which France defeated Australia 7-5. On 1 December 1973, at Bob’s birthplace, Warrington 13 years after the two boys had starred for NSW schools, they both played key roles in Australia winning the Ashes against Great Britain. Maddison scored two tries and Bob one in Australia’s 15-5 third Test win on a frozen Wilderspool Stadium. In 1964, Bob, although still only 16, moved up to the Wests under 18 team. From the start, he excelled playing both five eighth and centre. The Wests grade selectors quickly realised what a talented played they had in the club and chose him as five eighth in their reserve grade team for the game against Wollongong at the Showground on 21 June 1964. The teenager looked at home from the kickoff and did well in the 13-5 win. A month earlier on 24 May, he scored two tries playing in the centres, for Illawarra under 18s in their 21-8 victory over Combined Groups 6 and 7 under 18s. After his reserve grade debut, Bob held his place in the remaining six competition matches. On 5 July, he played for Illawarra under 21s in their 19-0 win over the Balmain Presidents Cup team.
The 1964 Wests reserve grade team included many up and coming young players. These included Allan Maddalena, who went on to play two games for NSW, Peter Peters, who was a member of Manly’s 1973 Premiership winning team in the second row, with Bob at five eighth and Phil Dennison, who represented NSW Schools 9 stone team in 1960. These three and Bob became firm friends from the start and remain just as close today, 53 years later. Wests reserves finished third on the 1964 ladder and then won the minor semi final, 32-5 against Northern Suburbs at the Showground on 23 August. In the final two weeks later, they accounted for Dapto 21-4. The selectors chose the same team for the semi, the final and the grand final. It comprised of two hard heads along with 11 young men most of whom were under 21. At 16, Bob was the youngest by far, in both grand final teams. The Wests team was Alex Kirkland, Terry Moore, Lindsay Millar (captain), Allan Maddalena, Barry Pearson, Bob Fulton, Phil Dennison, Arthur Dobinson, Peter Peters, Ross Standring, Brian Kurtz, Cliff Roberts, Gary James. In the Grand Final at the Showground on 13 September, Wests 12 (Ross Standring, Gary James tries; Alex Kirkland 3 goals) beat Port Kembla 0. The local Illawarra Mercury wrote that “Peter Peters was the best player on the field, while Standring, Fulton, Maddalena and Dennison were also impressive.”
A month before the Grand Final, the Wests selectors gave Bob a taste of first grade when they included him in the club’s team for the 500 pounds Caltex Knockout team at Wollongong Showground on 16 August.
The next year, Bob was a first grader from the start. Now 17, along with Maddalena and Peters, he played with Wests in the early season Ambulance Cup followed by the Illawarra Cup. His first senior representative match was with Illawarra seconds at Campbelltown on 18 April 1965. The Illawarra seconds, including Fulton, Maddalena and Peters, beat Combined Groups 6 and 7 seconds by 14-11.
The following week at Wollongong Showground, he came off the bench for Southern Division in their 20-15 Country Championship win over Northern Division. Next came the Country Championship semi final at Lithgow on Anzac Day 1965 against Western Division. Maddalena was on the Southern Division bench and Bob was at five eighth with two of the opposing backline being Australian players Barry Rushworth and Earl Harrison. In a tight game, Southern were beaten 7-3, but Bob impressed the Country selectors and was named in the Country Seconds team to take on City at the SCG on Saturday 22 May. It was a strong City team with Graeme Langland and Brian Moore in the centres while Les Johns was the fullback. Sydney won the game 23-5 but several Sydney clubs were interested in signing the 17 year old five eighth, including Manly and Balmain. The day after the City-Country game on Sunday 23 May at Wollongong Showground, Bob, along with Maddalena and Peters, played for Illawarra in the 19-6 State Cup loss to Newtown. Because of rep commitments, Bob and Maddalena missed the first competition game but played in the second at Figtree Oval on 9 May against Collegians. Balmain officials, including coach Harry Bath, were at Gibson Park Thirroul on 25 July to see Bob play for Wests against Thirroul. Wests came in sixth on the 1965 Illawarra first grade ladder and because of a thigh injury in the second last round, plus rep duties, Bob played in 11 of the 14 competition games, scoring five tries. Although it was not a successful season for Wests firsts, it was an excellent year for Bob, who impressed in every game.
The Illawarra Mercury on Monday 21 June reported after Wests were beaten 24-5 the day before by Port Kembla that “Fulton was easily the man of the match although in a well beaten team.”
Manly secretary, Ken Arthurson and committeeman, Roy Bull (25 Tests) drove down to the Illawarra district to watch Bob play several games in 1964 and 1965.
Bob signed with the Sea Eagles after the 1965 Illawarra season.
By Barry Ross.