Tim Brasher

The Art of the Fullback

Tim Brasher
The Art of the Fullback

You’ve got to have a good fullback.

To play the position well, I think you’ve got to be a good reader of the game, a good defender, a good talker and obviously very skilful. If you get one that can attack like Billy Slater, then you are blessed.

If I could be the best player in any positon, I wouldn’t want to be a fullback. It’s not a job for the faint hearted. I think people have always had that acknowledgement that it’s a tough spot.

The main thing for a fullback, is to be up for the first two or three tackles. You need to really be in the defensive line so the rest of your team mates can hear you, to move them around, get into position, plug holes and then spread wide for breakout movements.  

If you’re not quite up to where you should be, then you will be heavily scrutinised. You are the last line of defence and when you have an open field and you make a mistake, then people see it.

The one thing I don’t see fullbacks do enough is back up their forwards. Every fullback is playing and wants to be in the backline, which is fair enough because that’s your job first and foremost. But when you watch games and especially in origins, you see the forwards fatigue faster than in regular season matches.

Even looking at this year’s first Origin game when New South Wales had Fifita and Woods offloading up the middle of the pack where a fullback has got to be, there was no consistent backup. The fullback had the opportunity to be anywhere he wanted to be, yet at times wasn’t in a position to attack off the big fellas.

Especially for the guys in your team that you know are ball players, that play before, at and after the line. That’s where you are going to get those little offloads and those holes, which is something I’d love to see more of.

How the game has changed

Sports science has definitely changed the game.

The boys playing the game now place a lot more emphasis on rest. They’ve worked out in the last 15 years that your body gets bigger and stronger when it rests, so if you keep flogging it, it will end up being detrimental.

There’s GPS’s to work out how far you’ve travelled, details about heart rate, workload and exertion.

Training has also changed. When you have a big week now days, you get to rest. These kinds of things make the guys fresher coming into games, so they can be at their best.

The weights that players do now are more specific towards working on strength and power as opposed to what we did, which was just lift heavy weights. That is why you’re seeing such athletes these days.

I think the interchange has definitely changed the game a little bit. Big guys aren’t wearing out as much, and you can see that all the forwards are a little bit leaner. Back rowers are now definitely bigger and stronger than they used to be because they come on and off for spurts of rest.

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My Fullback Memories

When reflecting on my career, there’s a couple of guys that you wouldn’t want to get one on one with.

It’s weird to say now, but the big guys were not the ones who I’d worry about because they’d just try and run over you. Brett Mullins, who had good pace and broke the line, would be a major worry.

When there’s 15 metres between you and Mullins and you’ve got to guess which way he’s going to go, you’ve to get the angle right, otherwise you know you’re not going to get him.  Don’t get me started on John “Chicka” Ferguson, who’d step you every which way. Pretty much anyone with pace, I was always scared of those guys. That’s why I’d try and stay as close as I could to the defensive line. It’s a little tougher these days with the 40/20 Rule, it’s a bloody good rule that one.

There’s a couple of memories that stand out during my playing career. Definitely the ‘89 Grand Final which we lost in extra time is one that sticks out for me. One minute you’re playing under 21’s, the next you’re in a Senior Grand Final.

Just to be out there in my first year of football and while still in high school was pretty amazing. Taking on Rugby League immortal, Mal Meninga, was daunting as I was 78 kilos and he was around 115.

The next moment would have to be playing in the World Cup final for Australia. I dropped a bomb in front of 88,000 people and absolutely shit my pants. It was the first time I had been scared of the ball.

I then went on to have a great game. I took everything, tackled everything and probably had one of the better games of my career. I just needed that little release of pressure.

The most satisfying moment of my career was when I was out with injury during the 1999 Origin series and came back for the second game in the 2000 series and got man of the match at Suncorp. I had a really good game, my best mates were in the crowd watching.

It was satisfying to come back after people were saying that they should’ve gone with someone new, but I showed them.

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Where to for the Tigers?

I don’t know where the Tigers are going. Their last four weeks of the home and away season were damn good, but they’re gonna lose a few good players for next season.

Their problem for the last four years has been off-field; issues with the board. Hopefully they’ve gotten over that and they can move forward.

I’d love to see the Tigers be stable. I think it’s something the club now has with the coach, it’s just the board that needs to be sorted.

There’s positive things around the corner and once that starts happening, the Tigers will be back.

Australian former rugby league footballer of the 1990s and 2000s who played primarily as fullback.