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The King’s touching tribute to humble Gillett

MATT Gillett has always preferred tackling to talking.

Put him on a rugby league field in the most stressful situation and he's the coolest cat on the block but the idea of a suit, a script and retirement speech is his equivalent of a dentist's visit with four aching teeth.

It's part of his innocent charm and it's why his emotional farewell press conference was such captivating viewing because it showcased his noble spirit and so many of the things which are great about rugby league's most obvious yet most powerful success stories … working class boys made good.

Matt Gillett announces his retirement with coach Anthony Seibold. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Matt Gillett announces his retirement with coach Anthony Seibold. Picture: Steve Pohlner

As a player or interviewee Gillett was never a smart alec or a sledger, a short-cut taker or a niggler but a humble, quietly spoken man who simply did his best.

Rugby league is a game of contrasts but surely, in the category of backrowers retiring in the same week, there has been no greater contrast than Sam "Social Pages'' Burgess, and Gillett, the former Bribie Island nipper most at home in boardshorts and thongs rather than the leopard-print number Burgess donned in Mexico this week.

Gillett bid goodbye to rugby league in a room filled with former team-mates Allan Langer, Justin Hodges and Sam Thaiday and many young Broncos who could only have been impressed by the sincerity of the occasion.

Matt Gillett and Wally Lewis doing one of many promo shots together. Picture: Adam Head
Matt Gillett and Wally Lewis doing one of many promo shots together. Picture: Adam Head
Lewis and Gillett formed a good relationship over the years. Picture: Annette Dew
Lewis and Gillett formed a good relationship over the years. Picture: Annette Dew

Players like Gillett may not steal the biggest headlines but they drag the deepest emotions out of fellow players.

When the cameras had gone and circus had moved on, an emotional Wally Lewis said to Gillett as they walked off the Broncos abandoned training ground together "I have always felt you were a great player but an even better bloke.''

When he sat down to address the media Gillett nervously tapped the table and, finding it impossible to start, whispered "I knew it would be hard.''

Then, after thanking people for coming, he momentarily choked up with the emotion of it all.

He felt he was struggling but it was just want that occasion needed. Slickness is over-rated at retirement press conferences. We want bleeding hearts placed on tables. We need to know it hurts. That they cared and they will miss it. Gillett certainly did and will.

Matt Gillett feels the emotion of his retirement. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled
Matt Gillett feels the emotion of his retirement. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled

The mood was raw and real, soft yet steely, sad yet strangely joyful and respectful enough that no-one even asked coach Anthony Seibold questions about what the retirement would mean to the salary cap because it just would have taken something away from the moment.

Gillett's children ease the tension by occasionally calling out "love you Dad'' and he responded with a sheepish smile and a "love you too.'' His kids gave their own send-off tribute to their father's most famous quality by tackling a chair.

When Gillett finished his spiel he whispered "sorry about that'' and it was almost as if he went back to being the Bribie boy who a decade ago wondered whether he was much good.

Matt Gillett, his wife Skye and children Harper, 5 (right), and Hunter, 3. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled
Matt Gillett, his wife Skye and children Harper, 5 (right), and Hunter, 3. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled

But there was nothing to apologise for. Inwardly, he would have been shattered at calling quits at age 31 but the sobering line from a doctor that he had done two shoulder replacements from injuries not as bad as Gillett's put it in perspective.

"I have had a good run,'' he said later. "Prior to footy I built fences with my best mate's dad's company and I was contracted to a labour company where I would do bits and pieces but I jumped into a big pre-season and off I went.

"I do (prefer tackling to talking) because I would rather my actions spoke for me. It's tough to go but the club has so many good young players I know they are going to do really well without me.''

Maybe … maybe not.

News Corp Australia


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