Down Under Blog: #40 Captain, Leader, Legend

So in this blog there’s only one thing to write about, and that’s the retirement of Hull FC captain Gareth Ellis. 

Gaz is one of those players that I’ve followed. Of course, the first time I saw him play live was when I flew home in 2005 for the Hull v Leeds Cardiff final, and I was obviously very glad he was on the losing side that day! Then, back in 2008 when the Wests Tigers announced they’d signed him I coincidentally resigned from my job with the club the same day to take up a role with Fosters. When I walked into the CEO with my resignation letter (and this might be more of a reflection on me) he was much more interested in asking me what I knew about Ellis than he was about my leaving! I told him that the Tigers had signed one of the best British players of his generation, and that despite the fact he was coming from Leeds, he was a great bloke too.

It turns out that Mark O’Neill (who ended up at Rovers) practically brokered the deal on West’s Tigers behalf, and that in Tim Sheens’ words he went over there not on big money, but for the “right reason” of testing himself in the best competition in the world.

You’ve only got to look at what some of the guys he played alongside him at the Tigers have said about him to understand what he brings to a team:-

“Gareth Ellis has no body fat, he has an ‘eight pack’, will run for 200m and leave six players being taken off on stretchers. He has to be the best forward I’ve ever played with.” – Liam Fulton

“On a dollar for dollar basis, Gareth Ellis was the best signing in Wests Tigers history, and the best decision we ever made in recruitment during my time as head coach, he’s THAT good.” – Tim Sheens

After 3 years (and 3 player of the year awards) in inner West Sydney, Gareth was homesick and asked to be released from the last year of his contract, which the Tigers reluctantly agreed to, at this point EVERY SINGLE Super League Club tried to sign him. The fact that he chose us over all the others – especially Leeds where it would’ve been so easy for him to go back – was a major coup for us.

Hull FC Wembley

There are a few signings in Hull FC’s history that you can point to and say that it was the catalyst to greater things. Before all of our times it was Billy Batten. In the 50’s the great player coach Roy Francis was the one that sparked some halcyon days. Knocker Norton is probably the closest comparison that you can draw though. Once we signed Norton, players were queuing up to play for Hull, and you can say the same with Gaz. I don’t think we’d have got Mini, or Frank the Tank, or Sika Manu had they not played against Ellis in the NRL and respected him.

It’s a testament to his abilities and longevity that when he went down with the ruptured achilles injury in 2015, at his age we all sort of assumed that would be the end of him, However he’s actually come back just as strong, just as agile and just as mobile as he was before, it’s unbelievable.

The very fact that we’re wondering how we’ll manage without him next season when he’s 36-years-old speaks volumes doesn’t it? Most blokes that age have been retired for years! Giving him Motu’s job is a masterstroke too. His network would be amazing, nobody has a bad word to say about the bloke, and I honestly think that the calibre of players he’ll attract will be amazing.

So onto next year with another captain (s’gotta be Danny Houghton), and probably another signing now too now that Gaz’s wages won’t be on the cap. There’s already been rumours of Sonny Bill Williams, but surely if he does come back to RL it’s likely to be with the Roosters. I’d be happy with that though – it’ll take someone special to replace Captain Fantastic.

There’s a few clubs over here struggling with the cap next year so a couple of big name forwards could unexpectedly come free. The Bulldogs are offloading players to accommodate Aaron Woods and Kieron Foran, but I reckon James Graham will end up at Newcastle, not back in England. Maybe we won’t replace him at all, which will allow Dean Hadley to return from loan.

He’s already got the Challenge Cup, but how good would it be to see Gaz lift the Super League trophy too? Maybe the news of his retirement will forge a “let’s do it for Gaz” mentality in the squad. Not many players get that fairytale ending to a career, but not many players deserve it more than Gareth Ellis. He’s already an FC legend, lets hope he ends his career as an FC immortal.

Until next time, Up the Cream, Gerremonsard and Come on you ‘Ull.

Rich – Twitter: @pommyrich

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