Greg Prichard,, NRL.com
Brad Fittler backs Tom Symonds as solidly as he does any player, which must mean the City Origin forward has a heck of a lot going for him.
It was Fittler who handed the then 20-year-old Symonds his first-grade debut when he was coaching Sydney Roosters in 2009, and it was Fittler again who, as City Origin coach, handed Symonds his first representative jumper, in 2011.
Fittler had no hesitation in picking Symonds for his second rep outing in the game against Country Origin at Coffs Harbour on Sunday. In fact, ‘Freddie’ says Symonds, although on the bench, was one of the first players chosen.
"He's one of my favourite players, Tommy," Fittler said. "He's had a bummer of a time with injuries the last couple of years, but he was one of my first picked. He's the sort of player who can adapt to anything – just a real footy player. He plays what's in front of him.
"He'll come off the bench for us and he can play in any one of three of four positions, so he just makes up a team. Lock, second row, five-eighth, centre... he played a full year at five-eighth for Newtown during his Roosters days. I think he played a first-grade game at five-eighth once as well."
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Two shoulder reconstructions and a knee injury made seasons 2011 and 2012 very disappointing for Symonds, but those setbacks didn't break him. He has fought hard to get back to where he is now – starting in games for his new club, Manly.
This week, he is just loving being part of the representative scene again.
"Freddie's a great supporter of mine," Symonds said. "It's good to have him on my side. He gave me my start in first grade and showed confidence in me. He picked me for City in 2011 and again this year, and to have him in my corner is pretty special.
"He's one of my heroes, and he's a legend in the game. He knows a lot about footy, so to have him supporting me and giving me advice is great."
Symonds, 24, was contracted to the Roosters until the end of next year, but he had missed a lot of games through injury and the club had built up its back-row strength in the meantime.
He was given the freedom of looking around for another club, and Manly coach Geoff Toovey, who needed to add to his back-row strength with Tony Williams having joined Canterbury and Glenn Stewart out injured for the first two months of the season, was delighted to be able to snap him up.
"Tommy got squeezed out at the Roosters, which I know they didn't want to do," Toovey said. "Sometimes, that's just the way it is. We were short. We needed an edge player, and we were fortunate we were in the right place at the right time for Tommy.
"We knew he was coming back from some injuries, but we also knew he had ability. Freddie had some raps on him, and (Manly football manager) Steve Gigg knew him from his own time at the Roosters, and he was impressed by him.
"Tommy has fitted in very well here. He's been starting the last few weeks, and I'd expect he'll still be in the 17 when Glenn Stewart comes back."
Symonds is on a two-year contract at the Sea Eagles, and is only looking forward now.
"I really respect (Roosters coach) Trent Robinson," Symonds said. "He's come in and done some really good stuff at the Roosters, and he was good to me through this whole process. I didn't have to leave the Roosters, but it was probably the best thing for my career at this stage.
"A few clubs were interested, and I ended up having a chat with 'Toovs' over at Manly. A week or two later I joined the club. There were no guarantees for me when I went there, but I thought there was an opportunity for me to play first grade at Manly.
"I only started there four days before the season kicked off. I had my first game in NSW Cup, and then I played two games off the bench in first grade. I've started the last three weeks, and I couldn't be happier about that."
He has been impressive on the fringes for the Sea Eagles too, scoring three tries, making two line-breaks and two line-break assists. Plus, he’s averaging nearly three tackle-breaks a game.
The back row is a traditionally strong position for NSW, but Symonds has certainly got ambitions to represent the Blues at some stage.
"It's a goal of mine, for sure," he said. "It might happen one day, but at the moment I'm really happy just trying to play week in and week out at Manly. I'm happy with how I'm going at the moment. The coach has got confidence in me, and I'm feeling comfortable at Manly. My head is in a good space."