Bob Fulton is without doubt the greatest player to wear a Sea Eagles jumper. He played 219 games scoring 129 tries, kicked 10 goals and an unbelievable 56 field goals. He represented NSW 16 times while he wore the green and gold jumper on 20 occasions. Such was his stature in the game he was one of the first four immortals inducted into the RLW Hall of Fame, the others being Clive Churchill, John Raper & Reg Gasiner.
Fulton was born in England and he came to Manly as a fresh faced teenager from the Wests Club in Wollongong. He
moved into the home of Harry & Joyce Knox at Harbord whose sons David and Graham played for the club at the time. A fiercely loyal family of the district the Knox family instilled the pride of the Manly club into Fulton that remains today.
Such was his talent despite being a tender 17 year old; he was thrown straight into first grade in 1966 and never played a Reserve Grade game in his illustrious career. A brilliant centre or five eight he combined his superb all round skills with gilt edge toughness.
Fulton competitive spirit led him to be called Bozoâ€?, after Bozo the Clown who was in a TV series of the era, as he was always playing up to the referee, feigning injury, taking a dive to gain an edge over the opposition.
Bob was conscripted into the Army during the Vietnam War, but this endowed with him with a dedication to fitness and again provided Bozo with another advantage over his opponents and also allowed him further to showcase his skills his adoring fan base on the Peninsula. Quite simply Fulton was the professional NRL 21st Century footballer but played in the 1960s/70s.
Manly had for many years being the bridesmaid of the Sydney premiership having never won a title since entering the competition in 1947. With Fulton in the side they had a player to build a dynasty around and with Ken Arthurson pulling the strings Manly began the climb to premiership glory in the late 1960s before finally tasting success in 1972.
Manly repeated the effort again in 1973 and the Eagles won the toughest Grand Final ever played against the Sharks. They won the game for 1 reason alone and that reason was Bob Fulton. He tore the Sharks defence apart on 2 occasions and both led to tries and at the end of the day his 2nd try, which probably no other player of the time would have been able to score, was the difference the sides.
After the retirement of Fred Jones, Bozo assumed the club captaincy and more successful years culminated in the winning of the 1976 title in the Grand Final against Parramatta. After 3 premierships in 5 seasons Fulton was at the height of his footballing power and popularity.
Every young Manly supporter of the time, including myself, adored Fulton like no other; fans flocked to Brookvale Oval to watch him play. At the end of the 1976 season these fans had a knife put through their heart when arch rivals Eastern Suburbs made an audacious bid for his services. He had a knee injury that had plagued him in 1976 and such was the massive financial offer from the Roosters Manly couldnt take the risk an offer a comparable package to keep him. Alas he crossed the bridge to the Eastern Suburbs and although his career was on a downward slide in comparison to his efforts at Manly however he went on to captain the 1978 Kangaroo tour to the UK.
Upon his retirement Fulton turned his hand to coaching at the Roosters and took them to the 1980 Grand Final which they lost to the Bulldogs. Ken Arthurson was looking to return Manly to the glory days of the 1970s when in 1983 he coerced Fulton to return to his original club, which was still extremely close to his heart.
He brought with him a swag of Rooster stars and he made an immediate impact with the club winning the 1983 minor premiership by a country mile and some say they lost the unlosable Grand Final to the defending premiers Parramatta.
In 1987 the Sea Eagles provided Fulton with his first premiership success as a coach when they defeated Canberra at the last Grand Final at the SCG. He had a brief retirement after stepping down at the end of the 1989 season before taking over from an ill Graham Lowe in 1993.
A golden era soon followed with Manly winning 3 minor premierships from 1995 to 1997, the Eagles dominated the competition but was remarkably only left with the 1996 title in the cupboard when they again went down to both Canterbury and Newcastle in controversial circumstances.
During this time he was also coached the Australian Test side to through a remarkable winning streak and the label of Super Coach was widely used when discussing Fultons coaching achievements.
The Super League war took its toll on Fulton as he stood at the forefront of the ARL battle machine with his old friend Ken Arthurson. The Eagles were financially destroyed by the war and the team decimated as a result. This along with family health problems caused Fulton to step down as coach during the during the 1999 season.
This ended a magnificent era of success for the club which Fulton was strongly involved in as a player and a coach. He moved into a successful media career whilst still be highly associated with the Sea Eagles improvement in 2005 advising on player recruitment and being a close confidant to coach Des Hasler.
I think it is shame that any Manly supporter under 35 years of age probably thinks of Bob Fulton more as a coach than a player as it was as a player that he was truly magnificent. Maybe one day a Manly player will come along that will be as good or even better than Bozo, I hope so because premierships will follow, but I doubt it. Bob Fulton the greatest Sea Eagle.