This story was first written for and published for NRL.com.
As the rugby league regular season draws to a close for another year, we are now at the point where it is time for celebration.
Over the next couple of weeks clubs will take this opportunity to celebrate the season that was. Other clubs will hold off the celebrations for a couple more weeks to see how deep into September they will play. Journalists and fans will write lists of their favourite tries from 2017, the best buys of the season and the most important rugby league moments of the year.
It’s a great time to reflect and to enjoy season 2017 before we enter the off-season.
The Dally M Awards will also give the rugby league community a chance to celebrate the most influential players of the year.
But the thing about rugby league is it is a team sport. And for every player like Cameron Smith, Johnathan Thurston and Boyd Cordner there are several other players that play other important roles in the teams that we support and that are also worth celebrating.
After attending the Parramatta Eels Ken Thornett Medal on Monday night, I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate a player that will be leaving the Eels at the end of the year and retiring and to say thank you to him for his contribution to my club over almost a decade.
That player is Jeff Robson.
It’s a funny thing about players like Robson. You would never single Jeff out as the most talented player in your team. But what I will always remember Jeff for is hard work and persistence. While not gifted with an abundance of natural talent, Jeff was a player I had ultimate respect for because he always did his best.
‘Doing your best’ is a lesson we often teach children, but something that loses importance as we get older. But in reality, what more can you give than your best?
There are some rugby league players that are gifted with natural talent. When they come into first grade people have big hopes and dreams for them and believe that they have big careers ahead. But then things get in the way – sometimes it’s injury, other times it’s off-field factors and sometimes it is simply because they do not want to put the hard work in.
Then there are players like Jeff who are just grateful for every game of rugby league that they get to play and who take every opportunity with two hands.
Jeff first came to the Eels as a 17-year-old in 2000 before making his first grade debut with the Manly Sea Eagles in 2004. It would take him four more years to get another shot at the NRL, when he played two games with Manly in 2008.
I remember when Jeff returned to the Eels in 2009 and played a key role in the ‘magic’ run that saw Parramatta win 10 out of our last 11 games to push into the top eight. That run continued until the Grand Final where the Eels were ultimately defeated by the Melbourne Storm and Jeff played the role of halfback in that team.
Jeff was part of a special squad of men that year including Tim Mannah, Daniel Mortimer, Nathan Hindmarsh, Nathan Cayless and Luke Burt and because of his role in that magic run, will always feature in this Eels fan’s fond memories of that year.
I was very disappointed when Jeff decided to leave the Eels again but was grateful that he was given yet another opportunity to play first grade. After playing for the Cronulla Sharks and the New Zealand Warriors the door opened one more time for Jeff and he returned to Parramatta mid-way through last year, playing 10 games in 2016 and 2017.
On Monday night, Jeff said ‘I’d like to thank Brad and the club for having me back, I really wanted to finish my career here’.
Humble. Thankful. Grateful.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Jeff for the tremendous service he gave my club and to recognise him for how much effort he put in every single time he took the field. He has also been praised over the years for his leadership abilities and for the time he has taken to help support the next generation of footballers coming through. He has always been a gentleman on and off the field and I know the Parramatta Eels family was a better one because it had him as part of it.
I’m confident that while he may not take the field again in first grade, that this certainly isn’t the last time that we’ll see Jeff in and around rugby league circles.
So as we head into the fun part of the season, be sure to celebrate the successes of your club this year, but don’t forget to take the chance to celebrate each and every player that has made a contribution to your team throughout the year.
And on a side note, by the end of this weekend the top eight for season 2017 will be decided. I can’t remember a final round of rugby league which has had the potential to disrupt the ladder quite like this one, so we quite literally will not know who makes the eight until Sunday.
Regardless, one thing is certain and that is that the Parramatta Eels will be playing finals football for the first time since 2009 and I can’t quite put into words just how much this means to me.
Bring on September.