Story by Mitch Jennings – Illawarra Mercury
THIRROUL veteran Aaron Beath and the Gibson Park grandstand have plenty in common – for one they both bear the name ‘Aaron Beath’.
You’d need a wrecking ball to bring them both down and, despite picking up some wear and tear a long the way, they get the job done year in year out.
Most people stopped counting Beath’s first grade games when he went past 300 two years ago and Sunday will see him play his 12th grand final.
“I’m five from 11 so hopefully this one can even it up 50-50,” Beath said.
“There’s probably two or three where we were far and away the best team that year but there’’s been a mixed bag of different qualities that each of the sides have had.
“They’re all different, it’s hard to pick one out and say it was better than the others, they’re all special. It’s why we play.
“You’ve got to play with a bit of luck, things go your way and things go against you, it’s how you react and what you do in the next five to 10 minutes after something goes wrong.
“We’re under no illusions, it’ll be an arm wrestle on Sunday but we’re looking forward to it.”
He remains tight-lipped on whether it will be his last.
“I’ve got a fair idea what I’m doing but, at this stage, I just want to get through the week and the weekend,” he said.
If it is, there’s no doubt he’s played as crucial a role in his 12th grand final charge as he has in any other.
The same can be said for front-row partner and 150-game veteran Joel Ruskin, with the pair having proven a surprise ace up the sleeve of coach Jarrod Costello.
“How good are we going we’ve got a winger and a halfback playing in the front row,” Beath said.
“It’s a different game these days and we can get by with Rusko and myself doing a job there.
“We knew we’d end up having to play a lot more football than thought we could but guys like Moose [Luke Shiels], Ethan George and Riley Lord who’ve stepped up.
“Good Thirroul packs have always been hard-working packs who know their role and we’ve had that again this year.”
It’ll be a fifth grand final for Ruskin, who did not expect to be leading a top-grade pack after winning his third premiership with the club in reserve grade last season.
“I haven’t trained all year, I’m just lucky wherever I get put,” Ruskin joked.
“It’s funny we’ve got a halfback and a winger there. It was a slow transition as I got slower and slower.
“I was expecting to play reserve grade again but, I’m very lucky that Jarrod’s helped me out a bit. Being mates with him’s helped a bit I think.
“Last year he said ‘look I might need ya if ya keen’ but I wasn’t even sure if I’d be playing at all.
“When the trials came around I thought I’d chuck the boots on and have a go and he just said ‘if you want to stick around, stick around’.
“Front-row’s a pretty new thing to me so now playing front row in a grand final’s pretty cool and definitely not something I expected.”
Costello had his reasons for asking, with quality props Jack Noble and Julian Flego both departing the club at the end of last season.
He admits he called in some favours from two of his good mates, but the pay-off has exceeded expectations.
“I’d always hoped they’d play because they’re both still very good first-graders in this competition,” Costello said.
“Jack Noble and Jules Flego went traveling overseas so we lost them and I put a bit of pressure on Rusko and Beathy to play.
“I don’t remember the exact conversations but I talk to Aaron regularly and he’s just a true clubman. While ever the Butchers need him, he’ll play.
“Rusko’s the same. I first spoke to him on Christmas Eve at Headlands [Hotel] and he said ‘yeah I think I’ll play’and now here we are in a grand final.
“Riley Lord, Luke Shiels and Ethan George all played in our reserve grade grand-final-winning side last year so it’s great to see them come into first grade. It’s what our club’s about.”