Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
With the prospect of a grand final clash with his former club Sydney Roosters just 80 minutes away, Tom Symonds often wonders where he would be right now had Manly not launched a late bid for his services on the eve of the 2013 season.
After three injury-plagued seasons with the Roosters after first debuting in mid-2009, Symonds found himself facing an uphill battle at Bondi this year following the arrival of Sonny Bill Williams and Luke O’Donnell alongside established back-rowers Boyd Cordner, Aiden Guerra and Mitch Aubusson. So when the opportunity came to head over the bridge, he grabbed it with both hands.
Asked this week if he ponders how life might have turned out had he chosen the opposite path, Symonds told NRL.com: “Yeah, I do. Personally I try not to think about the ‘what ifs’ because there are so many but if I did stay and I didn’t take this opportunity, I have no idea where I would be right now.
“I don’t know how many games I would have had the chance to play this year or if I would be in the team at this time of year. Certainly at the start of the year it wasn’t looking promising coming back from injury and having so many good forwards in front of me but now that I’ve made the move over it’s been pretty good.”
More than good, the move has reinvigorated Symonds’ career. His three-and-a-half seasons at the Roosters saw him play just 27 games in the top grade. This year he has already played 17 for Manly.
And after being overlooked during the Roosters’ remarkable run to the grand final in 2010 despite a rare break from the injury curse, he has finally earned his first taste of finals football in the Sea Eagles’ dramatic 4-0 loss to his old club in Week One and the 24-18 win over Cronulla last week.
“Walking off the field the other night, it occurred to me that we were going to the prelims and it’s exciting to be a part of it. I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
“I missed out in 2010 because of injury. I played Round 1 that year and got a bad knee injury. I was out for about four months and ended up coming back towards the end of the year and played half a dozen games. I was in and out of the team but didn’t end up playing any finals games. I did a few of those 18th-man jobs which wasn’t so great but I was there with them along the way and got a bit of experience. But this is my first proper crack at finals footy and I’m loving it so far.
“Obviously the first game of the semis against the Roosters two weeks ago I was certainly a bit more nervous than usual knowing it was the finals but looking back on it I think that was a good thing. I’m feeling a bit more relaxed and confident now but also excited.”
For Symonds – who many fans have taken to affectionately calling ‘T-Red’ due to his hair colour and the timing of his arrival at the club following Tony ‘T-Rex’ Williams’ move to Canterbury – 2013 has also been somewhat of a panacea following the frustrations of recent seasons. Like anyone who has suffered from multiple injury woes – knee and shoulder problems being the most serious – he needed to prove to himself as much as anyone else that he still had what it takes.
“Plus the pack here at Manly is really good as well and they’ve been together for a long time,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of quality players like Anthony Watmough and Brent Kite and those sorts of guys. Coming over, it was exciting to get the chance to play with those guys but also I knew I had to prove myself and get into that team.
“I guess I was always confident in myself being able to play first grade. That’s what keeps you going the whole time but certainly coming over it was a good transition in the end. It’s not just being in the finals, just being able to play every week has been good.”
As for the prospect of a dream match-up against his former club in the grand final next week?
“Yeah,” he laughed. “I’ve certainly thought about it and a lot of people ask me about it but in all seriousness this is a massive game for us and we’d be silly to look any further than that.
“If it did happen I’m sure it would be interesting and would make a good story, but we’ve got to worry about Souths first.
“We’ve had a big couple of games against them this year and the majority of those games was a big battle of the forwards. The way Souths play they’ve got a massive pack and they would be silly not to use them. We’ll have to be up for that challenge again this week.”