The NRL has cleared the way for former premiership-winning Sydney Roosters captain Brad Fittler to make a brief sporting comeback in next month's inaugural Auckland Nines competition at Eden Park.
Earlier this month Fittler expressed a desire to the return to the code 10 seasons since he retired, and over the last two weeks the Roosters have been locked in discussions concerning insurance and salary cap issues with the NRL about the former Kangaroos skipper's comeback.
At a function in Sydney today unveiling 15 of the 16 club's playing strips - the New Zealand Warriors were not represented - the NRL's head of football Todd Greenberg confirmed Fittler had been given permission to represent a Roosters side that will not include players who competed at the World Cup late last year.
Head coach Trent Robinson has already indicated he will rest his side's New Zealand and Australian test stars to be ready for the World Club Challenge against Wigan at Sydney's Allianz Stadium on February 22 - a week after the Nines.
But Fittler, who turns 42 on February 5-10 days before the tournament, may line up alongside New South Wales State of Origin halfback Mitchell Pearce.
Fittler, who led the Roosters to their 2002 premiership over the Warriors, said he had no reservations about adding his experience to a roster that will not include Sonny Bill Williams, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Kangaroos centre Michael Jennings.
Fittler's manager Wayne Beavis first floated the idea of his client staging a comeback and the former five-eighth gradually warmed to the proposal.
"I didn't really think about my answer until later and the more I thought about it the more I got excited about it," said Fittler, who had to pass a medical before starting training with the Roosters.
Fittler admitted his body was not in the same shape as his playing days but bristled at suggestions his participation cheapened the event.
"The good thing at 42 is you don't care what people think anymore," he said.
"They haven't seen me play [yet]. Make a comment after."
Greenberg welcomed Fittler's fleeting comeback.
"He'll play a valuable mentoring role with the young players in the Roosters squad and I've no doubt a number of players will be excited about playing with him and also against him.
"Being the competitor that he is, he has worked hard to ensure he deserves his place in the team, as well as satisfying a range of criteria and minimum standards we have set to reinstate a retired player for registration," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Where will the Warriors finish in the upcoming NRL season?