Almanac Rugby League: Vale Bob Fulton



Rugby league suffered a major loss on Sunday May 23 with the unexpected passing of Bob Fulton, one of the four original members of the illustrious rugby league concept named The Immortals.


Known to all and sundry as “Bozo”, Fulton passed away following a not-so-widely publicised battle with cancer. His death at the age of 73 was a bit too young, perhaps, but coincidentally he was well-known for his heroics in the 1973 Grand Final.


Fulton played in Manly’s first three premierships in 1972, 1973 and 1976 respectively before coaching the Sea Eagles to premiership glory in 1987 and 1996. He also enjoyed success as a player on the Test and interstate scene before having an outstanding record as Australian coach from 1989 to 1998, with the Kangaroos never losing a series when he was in charge.


Born in the English city of Warrington, Zachary Robert Fulton moved to Australia as a young boy before making his first grade debut for Manly as an 18-year-old. Before the Sea Eagles won a premiership, a 20-year-old Fulton skippered them against Souths in the 1968 Grand Final before he played under John McDonald’s captaincy in the 1970 decider, also against Souths. In the 1972 Grand Final, Fred Jones was captain as the Sea Eagles won their maiden premiership with a 19-14 victory against Easts.


While the 1973 Grand Final was well-known for foul play, Fulton gained the accolades after scoring Manly’s two tries in the 10-7 victory over Cronulla. When I had the good fortune of meeting Cronulla’s captain-coach from that Grand Final – Tommy Bishop – some 44 years later, he recalled: ‘Fulton did us.’


Fittingly, Fulton finally had the honour of captaining Manly to a premiership, with the Sea Eagles beating Parramatta 13-10 in the 1976 decider. Fulton was also the competition’s leading tryscorer in each of Manly’s first three premiership-winning years, scoring 19 tries in 1972, 18 in 1973 and 21 in 1976. Ian Heads and David Middleton reported in A Centenary of Rugby League 1908-2008: ‘Although known as the master of the unorthodox, a brilliant individualist who could single-handedly turn a game with a burst of acceleration, a step or a jinking run, the force that drove Bob Fulton was a competitive spirit that coursed through every vein in his body…Fulton’s desire to succeed drove him to achieve standards of fitness unheard of in his era.’


Fulton parted with Manly following a lucrative offer from Kerry Packer; even staunch Sea Eagles secretary Ken Arthurson encouraged Fulton to accept it. A knee injury prompted Fulton to retire from playing in 1979, before he guided Easts to the 1980 Grand Final. In 1981, Fulton was named as an inaugural member of the Immortals along with Clive Churchill, John Raper and Reg Gasnier. Interestingly, many of Fulton’s great achievements lay ahead, including two premierships as a club coach and his success as Australian coach.


A fierce competitor, Fulton sometimes got under people’s skin. One such case was in 1987 when he said in a press conference that he hoped referee Bill Harrigan would be run over by a cement truck. Fulton incurred a $10,000 fine, but he had the last laugh as he guided the Sea Eagles to glory in the last Grand Final at the hallowed SCG. Fulton was also made to look silly after saying before the inaugural State of Origin match in 1980 that it was ‘totally useless’ and rugby league’s ‘non-event of the century’.


Fulton had his supporters and critics but regardless of all that, his talent, achievements and drive to succeed enabled him to achieve many grand things in rugby league, hence his induction as an original Immortal.


Vale Bob “Bozo” Fulton, RIP.


To read a summary of Fulton’s playing and coaching career click here.


To read the NRL’s tribute to Fulton click here.


To read a biography of Fulton click here.


Photo credit:


Editor’s note: The Footy Almanac acknowledges the contribution of rugby league author Liam Hauser to the compilation of this tribute.


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Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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  1. Bobby Fulton was one of the few Rugby League names known south of the Barassi Line in the 70’s. Did NSW have a Fulton Line?

  2. Very informative IJH. When we got back to Queensland in 1972 Fulton was a massive name as PB points out. In the primary school grounds he was spoken of as a respected villain – interstate rivalries were always huge. I had no idea he was Z R Fulton. Why was he Bozo? I remember that traditional maroon jersey that Manly and Millmerran wore.

  3. Brian The Ruminator says

    Like JTH I have vivid memories of standing in the primary school grounds discussing Bozo. Growing up in the western suburbs we were innately anti-Manly but it was hard to disguise a soft spot for him. He was just so bloody good. And with Graham Eadie at fullback and Ken Irvine on the wing the Manly backline was electric making them one of the most dynamic teams I’ve ever seen.

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