Every year, it’s great to see past stars of the AFL (as well as some great TV personalities) head out onto Etihad Stadium to honour the State of Origin legacy of E.J. ‘Ted’ Whitten, as well as raise money for prostate cancer research and awareness.
Russell Robertson is one of those players lining up for the All Stars on Tuesday night. The 228-game flying star of the Melbourne Football Club is excited about his return to Etihad Stadium. His excitement about returning to Etihad is palpable; “compared with playing in the country, to run out on the carpet of Etihad again is always fun.”
How does the Legends game compare in intensity to country footy?
RR: The intensity is not there at all. Some of the guys take it more seriously, which is good because you need a couple of guys who are willing to move the ball and generate some excitement, but most are too scared of the commentators ripping into us for trying too hard!
So you try to get the crowd going with such a great night. Do you have a ‘hanger-off’ with former Demon and fellow hanger-taker Shaun Smith?
RR: Well, the thing about taking marks in this game is that we try to set them up, and you can’t set up a hanger, they’re too organic. This year, though, we’ve got Brett Burton in the forward line as well, and Burton will try to take a hanger so I’ll probably try and do the same.
Every year there’s always a few guys who will take it too seriously. Any ideas who will go a little bit too hard?
RR: Well, Strauchnie always tries his very large guts out. Richie Vandenburg cops it from the commentators for going too hard, to the point where I feel sorry for him! Seems like the commentators think we’re trying to get re-drafted.
So you’re not going to try and lay a tackle and get into Neeldy’s sights?
RR: No, if you see a tackle you’ll see one of those blokes taking it too seriously!
Your third Legends game, we’ve seen Sam Newman pulling on the boots in his 60s, do you fancy becoming the longest-serving All Star?
RR: Not really, and it’s not really about that for the players. A big part is about honouring the legacy of E.J. Whitten and the prostate cancer awareness campaign, and helping out with that. However, a big part as well for the players is the camaraderie, to talk with players who played for other clubs about their stories and exploits. A lot of them are much more excited about the after-party than anything else, as the stories always flow a bit easier over a couple of drinks!
Now, on the game itself, is it a good legacy for Teddy Whitten’s impact on the AFL, or do we need more, say to bring back State of Origin?
RR: Well what I can remember as a junior from State of Origin was always the Victorians taking on the South Australians. It was always a great game of football because it was passionate, it was for the state, and EJ was its greatest supporter. People wanted to play for EJ, Dermott Brereton, Danny Frawley, and it was strengthened by EJ himself and his passion for the game. On the South Australian side, well, they didn’t need their arm twisted to bash up on the Victorians and can’t wait for their chance. As a Tasmanian, watching those games, loved it, wish it’d come back; it did die a slow and painful death with players committing to their club, but that’s just how it is in the AFL. It may come back to the states, and if they do bring it back, the AFLPA stop suggesting the pre-season option, those not involved in the NAB Cup will participate, and instead do it in the middle of the year and give it to the guys who are performing really well. But it has to be the players committing, and if they don’t, well it’s useless.
The EJ Whitten Legends Game is on at Etihad Stadium on Tuesday 3rd July.