Steelers captain Jonathan Phillips launched his testimonial year earlier in the week – confirming that two of his best mates would be returning for the game, suggested to be taking place in December.
Both Jason Hewitt and Mark Thomas will line up alongside the club’s all-time living legend Ron Shudra. Add Phillips to that list and you have the club’s four longest-serving players. Some history there, when you look back.
It’s ironic that Phillips will be lining up alongside Shudra’s eldest son, Cole, this year. In winning last season’s league championship, Phillips overtook Shudra Sr. as the club’s all-time most successful captain. We are a lucky club, aren’t we, that we can boast people, let alone captains, of the calibre of Ron Shudra and Jonathan Phillips?
I don’t care what job you’re in, or what profession. Sign good people first. Work down the pit? Well I’m sure, first and foremost, you want good people alongside you. Work in my Estate Agency office and I don’t care about your sales experience; first and foremost, I want good people. Inside a sporting dressing room, a place where you will be with your teammates for eight and a half months solid, trust me; good people are needed. Bad people are found out.
It’s no coincidence that those good people keep on winning, just as Shudra did, just as Phillips is continuing to do.
My belief is that Phillips won’t just beat Shudra’s trophy count - he will smash it. I believe that Phillips’ reign isn’t close to ending, that his professionalism and commitment to the club, to the sport, will see him as a part of this Steelers for a while yet.
The man is a machine. His teammates hate it when he gets injured. Not just because they want their captain on the ice, but because they know he will set a new record by returning to fitness weeks ahead of schedule.
“He makes it harder for the rest of us,” Mark Thomas told me.
“Us mere mortals need an extra few weeks. Jonno is so ridiculously fit, he just recovers. He is an easy man to dislike at times like that!”
It will be a different year inside the Steelers locker room for Phillips. There’s no Thomas, Hewitt, Legue or Sarich; all close friends, all long time decade long team mates. I’m not so sure it will affect the incredible leadership ability of the Welshman.
Phillips leads in a quiet manner. More of leading by example style that a cheerleading, ‘rah rah’ style. Upset Phillips and it’s more of a quiet word walking to the car park after training, than a Fergie-style dressing room dressing down.
Upsetting the Steelers’ on-ice boss isn’t something any of us want to do. Again, not because he will give us a rollocking, more that you will see disappointment in his face. You don’t want Jonathan Phillips to be disappointed in you. You see how hard he works, how committed he is. You look up to him in whatever capacity you are at the club: coach, player, employee, volunteer.
Phillips sets the example, sets the bar. He is the perfect role model. Kids should look at him, look at his career and think, ‘I want to be like him’.
Phillips isn’t a poster boy, though. He won’t sign the most autographs. He won’t have the most replica shirts with his name on the back. The big thing is that he is happy about that as well, he doesn’t go looking for the limelight, isn’t comfortable in it. He leaves that for others.
Jonathan Phillips concentrates on making sure his 21 team mates are okay, he concentrates on killing that penalty, blocking that shot, being in the right position. Most Saturday and Sundays, we don’t notice him. Then we listen to the coach in his post game interviews and we keep hearing his name mentioned – Phillips does the things the professionals notice, the professionals like and to him, most importantly, that his teammates respect.
In the last two years we have decorated two outstanding characters and committed Steeler players in Mark Thomas and Jason Hewitt and together with Phillips they created a dynasty. A core of British talent that ran the Steelers’ dressing room, gave the club a DNA that will remain here for decades.
I loved both Thomas and Hewitt to bits, loved everything about them as players and people. Jonathan Phillips, though, is our captain, our leader. He is the first over the trenches. I can’t begin to tell you how respected he is both at club and international level.
Jonathan Phillips is our captain, not just his 21 team mates. He captains our club, he is our leader. How lucky are we. What a deserving case for a testimonial.