Updated: Sep 4, 2021
Take what excels, is decent, respectable, and typical of the true essence of Rugby League. Then double it.
For fifteen years we’ve been privileged to follow the parallel careers of Brett and Josh Morris.
Now that Josh has announced he will follow brother Brett into retirement, it is timely to look back over the careers of two of the real nice guys of sport.
It is hard to write a story about one without the other. They set out to forge their own paths on the field, but the genetic and psychic bond between them produced an uncanny similarity to their achievements over the course of their careers.
They were born in Kiama in August 1986, to mother Karen Chatfield, and legendary rugby league winger and halfback Steve (slippery) Morris. While the Rugby League pedigree came from Steve, the ‘hard yards' were taken in the crucial early years by mum. She raised them and ferried them around the countryside for training and games. Their early experiences would play a large part in moulding the characters that were to become.
The identical twin brothers played their junior rugby league with the Kiama Knights and attended Kiama High school from 1999 to 2004. There they crossed paths with the young Sally Fitzgibbon, a future star in a very different sport. It was the same school once attended by former Illawarra Steelers, St George Illawarra, NSW, and Australian representative Rod Wishart.
Brett and Josh played in the 2005 competition-winning St George Illawarra Jersey Flegg team, beating Parramatta 30 to 20 in the Grand Final. Brett played fullback with Josh on the wing. It was a team coached by future NRL mentor Steve Price, and included other budding NRL stars Dan Hunt, Jason Nightingale, Danny Wicks and Beau Ryan.
Brett made his NRL debut in round nine of the 2006 season, and Josh in round one the following year, both with St George Illawarra.
The twins peaked early, with both playing Origin and Tests within a few years of starting in the NRL. Over the following decade, they maintained their form and mostly side-stepped serious injury, to remain at that peak. Their names became synonymous with consistency, reliability, and professionalism. And they played it clean, both on and off the field.
At the end of 2008, having scored 20 tries over two seasons as a centre, Josh was released from St George Illawarra, supposedly due to ‘salary cup pressures’. However, it was no secret that he was released by incoming coach Wayne Bennett, who didn’t foresee an elite playing future. Bennett did have an embarrassment of riches when it came to outside backs, with Matt Cooper and the returning Mark Gasnier set to play in the centres. Bennett’s judgement brought the Dragons the 2010 premiership. But the club still rues that Gasnier called a premature end to his career one year later, while J-Moz remained one of the top centres in the game for a further 12 seasons. The Dragons faithful always hoped for a Josh homecoming, and a reunion of the brothers. It was never to be.
Josh proved Bennett wrong soon after his release, debuting for Origin II in 2009, and making the Kangaroo tour at the end of the same year. He went on to play 15 Origins and six Tests. He is regarded as one of the best defensive centres of the modern era.
Josh announced his representative retirement in 2018, then answered an SOS from coach Brad Fittler to play in game one of the 2019 Origin series. He was still being touted for possible Origin selection in 2020, aged 33. Leading into this year’s finals he has played 324 games in first grade.
Brett is the fourth-highest all-time try scorer in the NRL, with 176 tries from 276 games. He won premierships with St George Illawarra in 2010, and with the Roosters in 2019. He played 15 Origins, his last in 2017, and 18 Tests. He was considered as one of the best wingers in the game for his entire career and filled in at times as a fullback and centre with equal effectiveness.
While Brett is rarely mentioned in debates about who were the quickest players in the game, he would have held his own in most company. Often when you saw a noted speedster make a break and Brett was in pursuit, you had the impression of a lion chasing down a hapless stray from the herd. In the 2013 World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand, a break was made by Jaryd Hayne who was known to be fast. But he was quickly chased down by Kiwi halfback Alex Johnson. As Hayne’s head half-turned to determine where Johnson was, Brett appeared on his left, having cantered effortlessly alongside. When the pass was made, Brett changed gear and smoked the still chasing Johnson to score under the posts. He might not have been the quickest of wingers overall, but at 96kg he would certainly feature in the pound-for-pound stakes.
Brett’s game over his last two years at the Roosters was the best of his career. Given greater freedom by coach Trent Robinson, he had developed into a versatile playmaker who often roamed around the field like a second fullback. He remained one of the games' chief try scorers and led the 2021 season tally before his career-ending knee injury.
The tackle Josh made on Greg Inglis in Origin I of 2014 has gone down in Origin folklore. With brother Brett playing on after a serious shoulder injury, Josh sustained a posterior cruciate ligament rupture to his knee. While being attended off the field by physiotherapist Liz Steet, Josh pulled himself off the ground to make a crucial tackle on a flying Inglis. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Josh’s defensive prowess was the reason he was usually tasked with the job of marking the great GI, who was the most devastating attacking player in the Queensland side. The more highly rated Inglis rarely got the better of Morris. Like Federer versus Nadal, in this contest the player considered the greatest was usually dominated by his courageous opponent.
And like brother Brett, his attacking prowess shouldn’t be overlooked. He finishes his career as one of the top 10 all-time try-scorers. Though playing in the centres, his try tally in the early 2010s went neck-and-neck in his friendly competition with his brother, whose job it was to score tries. And like Brett, his speed at full flight was never truly appreciated.
The brothers were often described as the ultimate professionals. They trained the way they played, with resolve and a clinical mastery of their craft. They never shirked any hard work or looked for the easy option. Over their careers, both have filled in for injury in different positions in the backline, always making it look like they have played that position all their lives.
In announcing his future plans this week, Josh revealed a busy upcoming schedule that will include completing his certificate in carpentry.
Would Josh the chippie have trouble getting a job?
Picture the builder with his enthusiastic and impressive applicant. In glancing over the resume, it becomes apparent that this bloke will probably show up early for work, happily do the overtime, and only take days off if he’s really crook. He’ll agree to do the dirty and mundane work without complaint, and even look happy while he’s doing it. And when you set him a task and demand a certain standard, he’ll give it to you, every time. In fact, he’ll usually do it better.
I reckon for that builder it’s a no brainer.
Unless the Roosters pull off the near-impossible, the Morris boys will finish with two premierships. Brett will happily share one with his equally deserving best mate, and Josh will be more than satisfied. He will remember his career mostly with appreciation.
One of the real nice guys of world surfing, and life-long Dragons fan Sally Fitzgibbon was once asked to name her favourite player in the Red and White. She immediately nominated the Morris twins. Even though Josh was by then playing for the Bulldogs.
Mums are entitled to be biased, but when Karen refers to her boys as being humble, it is almost understated. And wherever you go, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone with a bad word to say about the Morris boys. They have been everything that is good in the game for so long. You can bet they will continue to excel in whatever they do from now on.