Alarm bells are ringing for former rugby league hard nut Trevor Gillmeister after the NRL cleared the way for former Test skipper Brad Fittler to make his comeback at the inaugural Auckland Nines tournament.
The rugged defender known as "The Axe" genuinely fears for the safety of Fittler - 42 next month - after NRL head of football Todd Greenberg on Wednesday gave the green light for the veteran's return in next month's pre-season event.
Ten years after his retirement, Fittler will run out for the Sydney Roosters at the Nines after meeting criteria imposed on him by the NRL.
But Gillmeister believes nothing will prepare the former match-winning pivot for the "welcome" that awaits in New Zealand.
"For the life of me I can't understand why he would be thinking about this," Gillmeister said.
"He retired as one of the greats of the game, as a premiership winner with two clubs and as Australian and NSW captain, so what does he have to prove?
"He has been out of the game for so long, and honestly, the players these days are just so big, fast and strong - I'm worried he will get smashed."
Gillmeister said he could understand Fittler returning for a Sevens tournament.
However, the former Test backrower believed there was nowhere to hide in Nines rugby league.
"Nines is different because defence does play a role," he said.
"With nine players on the field, you can operate a proper defensive structure, and that means more solid collisions and contests in the ruck."
He said it wasn't just a game of "throw it around and give it to the quick guy".
"It is a fast game with heavy contact, and I just worry about Freddie (Fittler) with his back turned to take a pass being lined up by some 110kg giant looking for a big hit.
"I just don't see the benefit here for him or the game."
Gillmeister said ticket sales had been great, and the event didn't need Fittler for publicity.
"And while Freddie's health and safety is the main concern, the last thing the game needs is for the headlines that would come should the worst happen and he be seriously hurt."
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