By STEVE MASCORD
THERE are many things we assume as kids about football; things that we just as easily dismiss out-of-hand as adults.
Swapping footy cards at play lunch, we assume all players on our favourite team are best buddies. We believe unquestioningly they all respect and support the coach. And we are completely sure they love their team’s jersey as much as the one hanging up in our wardrobe.
Maybe they even sleep in it.
As bitter grown-ups, we hold these ideas to be self-evidently nonsense. Team-mates feud, coaches are the victims of mutinies and mercenaries go to the highest bidder.
It’s symbolic, then, that we encounter St George Illawarra, NSW and Australia winger Brett Morris straight after he’s been studying for an exam. He and a group of team-mates have gone back to school at the instigation of Ben Creagh, with the aim of entering life after football armed with a degree.
“It’s been a long time since I went to school so the brain hurts from thinking too long,” says Morris, taking a seat next to the makeshift classroom in the southern stand at WIN Stadium.
Morris plays for the club and region which made his father Steve famous. ‘Slippery’ Morris was the last man to represent Australia from a NSW country club, Dapto, in 1978 and became an icon when he joined St George the following year.
While brother Josh has moved on to Canterbury, Brett still turns out for the club he supported as a kid. At the Dragons, he says, “you get to stay around all your mates and I’ve been in footy my whole life”.
Just like you imagined as a tin lid. The coach, at one time under-pressure Steve Price? “Pricey’s got a lot of respect from all the players here. He’s coached a lot of the fellas coming up through the grades and we know what sort of coach he is and we really enjoy him as a coach.”
You’re starting to reconsider your stances on Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, right? Surely there’s a big difference cheering for a team as youngster and wearing the jersey for real, with all the politics and hurdles and competitiveness of professional sport. Surely the romance wanes?
Brett Morris looks me right in the eye. “I still love this club. I’ll always love this club. This has been a big part of my family, with the old boy playing here.
“ I’ve followed them my whole life and then to actually play in the red V … I still grab the jersey every game and look at the red V and I’m very proud to put the jersey on, that’s for sure.’
There is no nervous laugh at the end of that. No irony or acting. He’s serious. Professional sports may be a business but it’s a lot more than that to B Morris.
But it’s easy to think of Brett and his brother Josh as still being kids. They even had a play-fight when their Dragons and Bulldogs team-mates got into it for real a couple of years ago. Aside from a scar near Brett’s eye, not even their NSW team-mates can tell them apart.
But Origin’s not for kids – as we’ve been reading repeatedly since the last one – and tonight the brothers go into battle with the very mature aim of helping end Queensland’s seven years of dominance.
“In previous years, we’ve probably been guilty of talking about Queensland probably too much and not worrying about us,” says Brett, by common consensus the less talkative of the twins.
“Our focus was solely on us (in Origin). You still do the video sessions and what-not that you have to do on the other team but we had a lot of focus on what we needed to do and a lot of belief. The way we started that first half was pretty evident of the self-belief we had in the team.
“The game is just getting faster and faster and that’s just something that you’ve got to deal with. Origin – I think a lot of people say that there’s different rules and it’s just putting your body on the line and not worrying about anything else.”
So what about revenge, “not being bullied”, Nate Myles and all that?
“It wasn’t a massive thing but obviously we spoke about it. I think in the past we’ve probably been a bit timid and taken a backward step. I think we sort of made a group decisions that we weren’t going to take anything, any of their stuff that they were tried to do, and if they got up in our face, we were going to get back in their face. That’s just the way we wanted to play.
“We talked about their whole team. It wasn’t just one bloke. It’s an Origin. You can’t just prepare for one bloke. You’ve got to prepare for the full 17 and we certainly did that.”
Tonight there will be a couple of a new Blues and, league officials are hoping, no blues. One of them is Josh Dugan, who – if he re-signs with the joint venture club as expected – will hammer the final nail into the coffin marked “Brett Morris Fullback Experiment”.
“My days at fullback are done and dusted!” Brett says with a smile. “It’s one of the toughest positions on the field. The amount of running that you have to do and then you’re expected to be a second half sometimes as well … it’s a role that’s changed over the years … I think Duges is in some great form at the moment.
“I did enjoy it. I knew it wasn’t going to be long term – that’s probably why I did. It was one those positions where you get a lot more freedom than you do on the wing.
“But … you’ve got to play there for a couple of years before you see the real benefits of being a fullback. If you watched a lot of guys early in their careers …even Billy Slater when he started … you’re just picking up different aspects of the game over three or four years before he was exceptional at all parts of the game.”
Brett’s a family man now, doesn’t stress about football as much as he used to, looks forward to having his weekends back when he retires and is hoping to team up with Josh in green and gold with Australia in the World Cup.
Like wearing the red and white, respecting the coach and being buddies with your team-mates, Brett’s love of playing with his brother is every bit as deep as it was when they were kids down Kiama way.
“Every rep game we play is special because we don’t know how many games we’re going to get to play together, especially if we’re at different clubs our whole career,” Brett says.
Which brings us to THOSE rumours, about the brothers being reunited in red and white.
“He’s a man of his word,” “B Moz” says.
“He’s signed a contract with the Bulldogs and he’s going to honour his contract. He’s his own man now and he’s got his own decisions that he likes to make.
“Blokes on the street just make up stories and they spread. I’ve heard it from his mouth. He’s quite happy where he is.”
OK, let’s try this in reverse. Would Brett Morris, he of the red and white paraphernalia for almost as long as he has been able to walk and talk, ever play for another club?
“I’m not going to say never but there’s not much of a chance for me. Put it this way, I wouldn’t play for another club in the NRL.
“I love this club and I don’t think I’d be doing this club justice if I went and played for another club.”
With that, he picks up his schoolbag and is off. I’d like to think he’s heading for the bustop.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK