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Anthony Minichiello living proof nice guys can be champions

Date

Chief Sports Writer, The Sydney Morning Herald

View more articles from Andrew Webster

Happy family: Anthony and Terry Biviano with daughter Azura at his retirement announcement.

Happy family: Anthony and Terry Biviano with daughter Azura at his retirement announcement. Photo: Daniel Munoz/Getty Images

When Anthony Minichiello plays his final match at the end of this season he will be remembered for many things.

He’ll be remembered as The Count, because he looks like the Sesame Street character of the same name. The nickname was given to him in his first season, and it's stuck like Super Glue.

He’ll be remembered for his laugh, which teammates still think is the most infectious in the game, let alone the club. "You hear him before you see him," former teammate Braith Anasta once said.

Calling time: Anthony Minichiello announces he's hanging up his boots.

Calling time: Anthony Minichiello announces he's hanging up his boots. Photo: Getty Images

He’ll be remembered as the Roosters player who played in six grand finals, including two winning teams, in 2002 and then last year, as captain. Will there be one more?

He’ll likely be remembered as the most-capped Roosters player in history should he surpass Luke Ricketson’s mark of 301 matches for the Tricolours with eight more appearances.

"The name Anthony Minichiello will always be synonymous with the Sydney Roosters,” says chairman Nick Politis. Indeed, he is the first among equals in a foundation club that featured Messenger, Brown, Beetson, Coote and Fittler.

Red, white and blue: Anthony Minichiello will forever be known as one of the Roosters' favourite sons.

Red, white and blue: Anthony Minichiello will forever be known as one of the Roosters' favourite sons. Photo: Daniel Munoz/Getty Images

He will also be remembered as a modern-day rarity because he gets to finish on his terms, as a one-club player, and that is something almost never achieved in this era when salary caps squeeze even the most loved players out, and usually to England for one last payday.

Above all, Minichiello will be remembered as the player who shows you are never, ever dead in this game, as long as you persevere.

In 2005, he was considered the best player in the world and he had the Golden Boot to prove it.

Then, in round three the following season, he suffered a back injury. Neither the Roosters nor the man himself had any idea what was to come.

It was five years of hell. Of back surgery, false starts, revolutionary fitness regimes and diets. A new way of life. Mini won’t talk about it much, even now, but there were genuine fears at the Roosters during that bleak period that he would never make it back. The word was he was spooked about the possible consequences of one more back injury. Forget about his career. What about a serious injury that could affect him for the rest of his life?  

Of all the highlights the 34-year-old has enjoyed during his career, the one that stands out for me came in 2011, when he was recalled to the NSW Origin side. Too old. Too slow. Yesterday’s man. Ricky Stuart’s decision to opt for Minichiello ahead of the likes of Dugan and Hayne was considered a proverbial knock-on.

Then Minichiello went out and had 25 carries, scoring the match-winning try late in the game. "I told you I knew what I was getting with him, didn't I?" Stuart snapped at the press conference afterwards, having teared up when he hugged Minichiello in the rooms minutes earlier.

"What can I say?" Mini chuckled when we spoke the next day. "I'm a happy guy but this is up there with the grand finals and all the awards I've won in the past - because I've had to come back from so much."

A happy guy. That is how I will remember Anthony Minichiello when he finally hangs up his boots at the end of this season. He had some minor indiscretions early in his career, as young men are known to have, but he will finish as the game’s most loved player.

The relationship between player and reporter is always tricky, because you have to write things about their form, their coach, their club, their teammate that they do not particularly like.

A player can acknowledge you one minute, brush you cold the next.

I find it's the mark of the man.

To that end Mini, will always go out of his way to stop and say hello. He will always answer his phone, and chuckle down the line. Throughout all the ups and downs and dramas at the Roosters in the last year, Minichiello has never changed. He's my favourite person in rugby league. His wife, Terry Biviano, comes second.

Because The Biv knows better than anyone why the press conference on Monday when her husband announced his retirement was a triumph for never giving up. "She saw what I had to go through to get back and just rebuild from the ground up again, to just play first grade," Mini has told me before.

He came back, played first grade, captained the Roosters to a premiership, and could well do it again. Sometimes good things happen to good people.

11 comments so far

  • In 1966,I started following Easts...it was he year they didn't win a game......
    ...
    In the 48 years since,I have seen literally hundreds and hundreds of blokes represent the red ,white and blue.....
    Mini is without doubt one of the finest men to play for the club.....
    Thanks for all that you have done Mini......I salute you....

    Commenter
    The Phantom Bantam
    Location
    Cherrybrook
    Date and time
    August 05, 2014, 1:35AM
    • A great player and a gentleman. A rarity in league today! I wish Mino all the best when retirement comes his way.

      Commenter
      Neweyboy
      Location
      Newcastle
      Date and time
      August 05, 2014, 6:59AM
      • Well done Mini. You're a fine ambassador for the game and will be very difficult to be replaced.

        Commenter
        Luke
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        August 05, 2014, 8:17AM
        • A true Roosters great. Who knows what could have been if he stayed fit just as he hit his peak, but still an amazing career, and still a chance to hit 300 games! Maybe he can break Ricketson's record if we make the GF

          Commenter
          E
          Date and time
          August 05, 2014, 9:04AM
          • I remember bumping into Mini in a Kensington cafe many years ago.It was when he was suffering with his back injury.I asked him how his back was and he replied " Mate....I'm struggling.It's not good ".We then chatted for a few minutes before he kindly autographed a serviette for my young son.

            I've never forgotten that conversation and how polite and genuine Mini was.I'm sure he would have answered that same question a thousand times over,but he didn't hesitate to smile through his obvious discomfort and spend a few minutes chatting with me.

            The game will definitely be worse off when Mini retires.What an outstanding role model he has been for the Roosters and Rugby League in general.Always laughing and smiling and generous with his time.Tough,skilful and humble.....a true leader.

            I hope the Roosters win the premiership for Mini's sake.He deserves nothing less.But if that doesn't happen, he will still retire as one of Rugby League's greatest ever players.A one club man who gave his all week in,week out and defied the odds to return to the game following his debilitating back injury.

            Good luck for the rest of the season Mini, but more importantly best of luck for the future post retirement.Thanks for the memories.

            Commenter
            Stuart
            Location
            Randwick
            Date and time
            August 05, 2014, 9:48AM
            • Mini, well done! Roosters fans appreciate your amazing efforts for the Club.Great article too. An inspirational player. Players like Mini give Rugby League a good name, which it deserves. On my calculations, the Grand Final will be Anthony's club record 302 appearances.

              Commenter
              Agas
              Location
              Bondi Junction.
              Date and time
              August 05, 2014, 10:03AM
              • Hopefully another Grand Final win will be his grandstand finish to a great career. Maybe even a Rainbow from goalposts to goalposts like Laurie Daley had in his last game in Canberra- only those who saw it will believe this.

                Commenter
                Agas
                Location
                Bondi Junction.
                Date and time
                August 05, 2014, 10:12AM
                • This really is the end of a magnificent era. I know so many people for whom Mini embodies the soul of the Roosters and so many adults and especially kids for whom he is their favourite player. He has certainly been mine ever since he first started in First Grade.

                  Best of luck for everything in the future Count, you deserve it!

                  Commenter
                  drewski
                  Location
                  Sydney
                  Date and time
                  August 05, 2014, 10:25AM
                  • when the last match is over for mini the game will have lost a true gentleman of the sport

                    Commenter
                    roger
                    Date and time
                    August 05, 2014, 11:00AM
                    • Mini. What an absolute, dead-set legend. An ornament to the game, if ever there was one. Hats off, Mini, ol' son. You've done us all proud.

                      Commenter
                      Sir Harry Flashman
                      Date and time
                      August 05, 2014, 12:09PM

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                      NRL Season 2014

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                      NRL Premiership - 2014 Ladder
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