Ben Blaschke, NRL.com
The question had to be asked, but for Aiden Tolman there remains only one answer: “I already have a premiership.”
Just a single win away from contesting his second NRL grand final, the Bulldogs prop is one of a select group of players who has hoisted the premiership trophy aloft yet, according to official records at least, isn’t listed as a premiership winner following the salary cap rorts that saw Melbourne stripped of two titles and three minor premierships in mid-2010.
Tolman was a member of the Storm outfit that defeated Parramatta in the 2009 decider, but asked if he was keen to add an ‘official’ premiership to his CV, he simply shrugs his sizeable shoulders.
“Not really,” he replied ahead of Saturday’s clash with South Sydney and former Melbourne team-mate Greg Inglis. “For me, I’ve won that grand final. The feeling that I got on that day, nobody can take that away. I’m sure everyone that played on that day would say the same. But that’s in the past. All I can worry about now is this year and trying to win this game against Souths.”
Tolman is quick to point out that no matter what, he still has a premiership ring taking pride of place back home – a trophy Manly legend Max Krilich this week demanded be stripped from all Melbourne players, in an outburst that’s certain to fan the flames on the teams’ explosive rivalry. And either way, Tolman says, the possession or lack of previous titles shouldn’t have any impact on the desire to go all the way with Canterbury this season.
“It would be a special achievement, to go all the way,” he continues. “There is a lot of hard work to go but that’s what you play the game for – to be standing on that podium come September 30. But I know that nobody here is getting ahead of themselves – we’ve still got a lot of hard work to do. We’ve been doing that all week though and that’s all we can do.”
Premierships or not, the fact remains that Tolman is one of only a handful of players to have successfully navigated his way through the business end of the season and he recognises the benefits of that experience.
“I’ve only played a handful of finals games but being around a lot of experienced guys down there (in Melbourne) really helped,” he explains. “I think you learn from that.
“I’m a bit older now than what I was down there so I’m really looking forward to playing finals again. The guys that haven’t played in finals and things like that just bring that energy and enthusiasm and everyone just feeds off that.”
No doubt the next two weeks loom large for Tolman, who has enjoyed an outstanding year for the Bulldogs but openly admits it will all be for naught should their memorable season come to a premature end this weekend.
While he repeatedly draws the conversation back to the old ‘one week at a time’ cliché – no doubt the work of media-wary coach Des Hasler – he is also well aware of recent suggestions that he could be in line for a Kangaroos call-up at season’s end.
After all, it’s always nice to be mentioned, right?
“It is,” he replies. “Obviously I’d love to play for my country or NSW or any rep team. But I know that to do that I have to play well for the Bulldogs first and especially over the next few weeks.
“It’s not something I’m worrying about. My job is at the Bulldogs and what happens after that happens. My focus is all here and on Souths this week.”
Renowned for his considerable on-field work ethic, Tolman says he has toiled hard to add some skill to his otherwise no-nonsense game and credits the influence of fellow props James Graham and Sam Kasiano for his progress of late after narrowly missing State of Origin selection mid-year.
“I’m always trying to improve my game and work on the things I need to and having those guys there alongside me has really helped,” he offers. “They’ve got plenty of great qualities in their ball skills and I’ve been really trying to work on that myself this year too. I’ve learnt a lot off them. James is experienced, too. He has been around for a long time in Super League and has played a lot of grand finals so just being around him has been great for me.
“I mean, I always try and stick to my strengths and make sure I’m nailing those first but at training you try other things and I think my game has changed a little bit this year.
“At the same time I think the main basis of my game is the same. I try and get through a lot of work and do all that sort of stuff. Whatever I have to do for the team, as long as I do my job I’m satisfied.”
That job takes on even greater significance this week against a South Sydney side renowned for attacking through the middle.
Canterbury escaped with a thrilling 23-18 win the last time these two sides met back in Round 13 – right around the time the Bulldogs were starting their 12-match winning streak – but they were forced to overcome an early 12-0 deficit and Tolman recognises the importance of shutting down the Rabbitohs from the outset.
“There are a few things we need to be aware of,” he says. “They’ve got a big forward pack that plays with a lot of energy, they’re really high intensity, so we’ve got to try and match that and come out with the same enthusiasm as they do.
“And their dummy-half running is one of their real strengths. Issac Luke had a great game last weekend, which comes off quick play-the-balls and their forwards going forward so we’ve got to try and stop that by winning the ruck around the middle and winning that tackle.
“When we’ve got the ball it’s about getting quick play-the-balls as well to get us on the front foot. That’s what it comes down to – winning the ruck is the main job for us this weekend.”