The 36-year-old Fijian-born prop has a resume almost unmatched in the history of rugby league. At Suncorp Stadium on Friday night Petero will run out for his 300th NRL game, only the 17th player and just the third Queenslander to achieve the milestone. Add onto that stat a record breaking (for a forward) 45 Tests for Australia and 32 State of Origins for Queensland and you have the resume of a true star.
According to the man who gave Petero his start in first grade, Wayne Bennett, Petero’s achievements take on even greater significance because his 299 club games and 77 representative games were played in the furnace of the front row. Bennet said "Front rowers do the toughest job in the game. There's never an easy game for those blokes. Not only do they do some of the biggest hit-ups, they make 30 or more tackles as well. So his ability to stay at it is one thing. But the other thing is there's obviously a very talented football player there."
Indeed, Petero’s quiet nature and mild manner belies the player that has repeatedly and consistently for his whole career launched himself into the teeth of the fiercest defensive lines or again and again lined up his opposite number for a hit that could be felt in the grandstands. In fact, Bennett believes Petero is still one of the hardest hitters in the game adding “Beyond the mild manner of his, you just wouldn't want to stir him up. That's the unspoken thing about Petero. I don't think anyone would want to see him angry.”
Bennett recounts one instance in particular in 2004 against the Warriors when Monty Betham tried a stiff-arm tackle to Civoniceva's head. Betham broke his arm and Civoniceva marched on. Bennett argues "That's why he's got such esteem within the game because no one ever has taken him on in a physical confrontation. No one has ever wanted to."
You can be assured that when Petero laces up his boots this Friday night for his 300th game against the Rabbitohs his effort and his commitment will be the same as it was when he started his illustrious career. The man they call ‘Bulla’ is sure to be found charging into the line, bending it backwards and even though his legs may be slowing down the mere presence of Petero on the field should be enough to propel the young brigade of Broncos to victory.
Indeed, Petero does represent what is good about rugby league; uncompromising toughness. Not the sort of toughness that needs to rub a players face into the ground after a big hit or the kind that resorts to dirty play to get over the top of opponents. I have never once seen Petero do either of those things. But rather the toughness to not complain when things don’t go your way but just get on with it and take the next hit-up. The toughness to keep tackling and keep running right until the 80th minute no matter what the scoreboard says. The toughness to play through pain for the good of the team. The toughness to not compromise on the standards that you set for yourself and ultimately the toughness to remain gracious and humble in both victory and defeat. Now all those things I have seen Petero do and that is, in my opinion, what makes Petero the man and the player great and in all senses of the word a true champion.
Adam Schoenmaker is a high school chaplain in the northern suburbs of Brisbane for three days each week and serves two days a week in his local church. Adam loves a good book, a classic album and all Queensland sporting teams.
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