With his imposing 194cm stature he looks ready-made for State of Origin – but giant Blues forward Tom Learoyd-Lahrs has admitted that he suffered from a crisis of confidence before his breakthrough year in 2009.
Despite debuting for Brisbane way back in 2004, Learoyd-Lahrs has played just 63 first grade games in the six seasons since through a string of injuries that had him doubting his ability to make it in the NRL.
“It used to affect me a lot,” the 24-year-old told NRL.com after being named in the NSW squad to take on Queensland next Wednesday night.
“I used to have a lot of doubts come into my head after a big injury and I’ve had a few of those in my career. But last year was a massive confidence boost for me.
“I’ve always struggled a little bit after long stints out to get back to peak form and to get that confidence back to where it needs to be to be a consistent player.
“I had a few injury concerns again at the start of this year but the way I’ve bounced back has been massive.”
Learoyd-Lahrs has long been touted as a player of immense potential but it wasn’t until last season – when he played 16 games for Canberra and earned a surprise call-up for the Blues in Game Three – that his abilities began to be fully realised.
“I think it helped me become a more confident player all round,” he explained. “This year when I came back [from injury] I was more confident in what I was capable of.
“I was able to just get back on with the job.
“I still had a few quiet games early on, but slowly my season has been building.
“I can’t say I put it all down to playing Origin but it certainly helps when you get out there competing against and alongside the best players in the game.
“Knowing that you can compete with them dispels any doubt in your head.”
Learoyd-Lahrs forms part of a monster NSW side aiming to take Queensland head on at ANZ Stadium next week.
Having tried, unsuccessfully, to out-play them in Games One and Two last year, the Blues fared much better when they out-muscled them instead in Game Three.
His return comes at the expense of fellow back-rowers Paul Gallen, Anthony Laffranchi, Glenn Stewart and Luke O’Donnell, who all took part in last year’s series.
Learoyd-Lahrs said it was up to the current squad to prove they are the right group to end Queensland’s four-year dominance on the Origin stage.
“I think to myself that there are a lot of players in my position that could have been picked ahead of me, so you’re thankful for the opportunity and you really want to make a good fist of it to show that they’ve made the right decision,” he said.
“I’m not going to talk over the top of anyone too much this week but I obviously want to get that good training week in, prepare the best I can and play the best game of football I can on Wednesday night.
“It’s pretty exciting to be involved again.”
Learoyd-Lahrs said he was better prepared for Origin this time around after making his debut in 2009.
“It’s all a massive learning curve and a massive eye-opener,” he said. “The intensity in our preparation leading into Origin – it shows you just how professional some of these blokes are and the lengths they go to in order to get themselves ready for games.
“I’d like to take a page out of a few blokes’ books.
“Preparation is the key – getting your body right and making sure you’ve ticked all the boxes in your game plan.”