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The grand final move that proved Aubusson’s worth to the Roosters

Robinson raises the prospect of Keary taking complete control of the team in attack, standing on the open side at almost every ruck.

The second part of the plan is finding someone else to man the short sides, a decoy if you like. Someone willing to sacrifice his own game on the grandest stage just to keep the opposition guessing.

Aubusson puts up his hand.

“He had never played that position and he was going to have to learn a different role within two sessions,” Robinson says. “As well as execute within that short space of time, while everyone is trying to get themselves ready to play. He was the one that said, ‘I’ll do it’. That’s just Aubo.”

History shows Cronk, with the help of dressing-room painkillers and a pain threshold few would comprehend, would take his place in the grand final.

Aubusson stood next to him in the defensive line all night and made most of the tackles the Storm wanted Cronk to make. Aubusson finished with 34, second only to Friend. He missed just one.

Mitch Aubusson is an unheralded hero at the Roosters.

Mitch Aubusson is an unheralded hero at the Roosters.Credit:NRL Images

“I said, ‘Defence wins grand finals and I’ll back myself to be the best in that position for sure’,” Aubusson recalls. “I didn’t think twice about [initially offering to replace Cronk]. It’s what had to be done.”

On Thursday night when the Roosters take on the Dragons, Aubusson will join Anthony Minichiello (302) and Luke Ricketson (301) as the only players from the club to reach the 300-game milestone.

He squirms at the thought of joining their company, even calling it a “little bit embarrassing”. But the only ones who really know what he means to the club are those who have worked with him.

In the last decade at the Roosters there have been four grand finals and three titles, Brian Smith and Robinson, high-fliers Sonny Bill Williams and Cronk, Mitchell Pearce’s exit, James Tedesco’s entry, milestones for a core group that has stuck together.

And then there’s Aubusson, Bondi’s resident blue-collar hero. He’s the type of person every club needs, but rarely has. He will be just the 15th player to achieve the 300-game feat at one club.

“He’s an outstanding guy and we love him,” Roosters chairman Nick Politis says. “He’s so loyal and he never ever wanted to leave. He would play for unders, just telling his manager, ‘I’m not going anywhere, just do the best you can with the Roosters’.”

Phil Gould once said when Aubusson arrived at the Roosters as a 16-year-old kid from Ballina, he barely turned a head just by looking at him. If he was a horse going through the ring at a yearling sale, few bids would have been lodged.

Then he started training, relishing the sessions that were really tough. Then he started playing, in one position and then another. Then everyone realised what a pure footballer he was, the one whose true value is shown not in highlights reels but hidden between the four walls during the week.

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Gould loved what he saw.

According to Robinson, the only positions he hasn’t played the 32-year-old are front row and fullback. Aubusson jokes if he’s taking the first carry off a kick-off or catching a spiral bomb at the back on a wet night, then the Roosters are in trouble (“although you never know, there’s still time”).

Where other players crave certainty, Aubusson spends each week meticulously preparing himself for a whole range of scenarios into which he may be thrown.

“Every player should really look after themselves, get themselves into a position and then look after their teammates,” Robinson says. “Aubo’s the only player I’ve ever seen that does the reverse to that.

Mr Fix-It is an easy label. It doesn’t matter where you put him, he will get the job done for us. There’s a definite difference.

Craig Fitzgibbon

“He’ll look after what’s best for the team first and then he will start thinking about what’s my role and what do I need to do. There’s not a selfish bone in his body. And he’s often the second-best choice in most of the positions we have. In any position, on and off the field, he’s the ultimate clubman.”

Adds Roosters assistant Craig Fitzgibbon: “He doesn’t just fix a position for us, he nails it down. Being a Mr Fix-It is an easy label, but we don’t see him as that. We see him as someone who, it doesn’t matter where you put him, he will get the job done for us.

“There’s a definite, definite difference.”

In the last nine seasons, Aubusson has missed just 11 games. By his own admission, this year has been one of the hardest after the sudden death of his father Brian, a much-loved NSW Fire and Rescue instructor, a few months ago. He was just 60.

As soon as Mitchell was ready to play again Robinson had him straight back in the side. He might not know where he’s going to play him each week, but Aubusson’s name is always on the teamsheet.

Mitchell Aubusson will join Anthony Minichiello and Luke Ricketson as the only Roosters to join the 300-game club.

Mitchell Aubusson will join Anthony Minichiello and Luke Ricketson as the only Roosters to join the 300-game club.Credit:AAP

“I went the other way [to a lot of players] and said, ‘I’ve got to pride myself on doing this’,” Aubusson says. “That’s been my point of difference being selected each week. They might say, ‘who are we going to select this week? Mitch Aubusson has got to be there because he can cover a lot of positions’.

“For me it’s always been about doing the best I could with my size, height and weight. If I’m replacing a Michael Jennings or a Josh Morris or a Brett Morris … I’m not going to be that player. I want to put my own stamp on it and do what I think is right at the time.”

Brad Fittler handed Aubusson his debut in the opening round of the 2007 season, the same game in which Shaun Kenny-Dowall started his NRL career (Mitchell Pearce would make his debut the following week).

What few people know is Fittler had an even bigger role in Aubusson’s life.

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“I introduced him to his wife,” Fittler laughs. “We were down at Double Bay after a game at Newcastle. [Longtime Roosters staffer] Cathy [King] was talking to Laura, who is now his wife, and we pretty much said, ‘there’s your man right there. He’s the one you want to chase’. We hooked them up and that was it.”

Aubusson and Laura have now started a family and have two kids, who will be the last thing the 300-gamer thinks about when he runs onto WIN Stadium.

The modern NRL player often uses family as a reason to chase the dollars when another club comes knocking. Aubusson has never been one to shop himself around, and had the chance to leave for far more money at the end of 2012 before Robinson took over.

“If I would have gone that other direction I would have been kicking myself forever with what the club has been through the last few years,” he says.

“There was no way I would have wanted to miss that for any money value at all. It would be one of my biggest regrets. A part of me never went down that path because I knew this was home.

“This club has seen me move from a boy to a man, and now to a father. I’m really proud of that fact – that’s my greatest achievement, being a father. The last thing I think of before I run on the field every week is my family – and I want to do them proud.”

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