Aiden Tolman isn’t one to let disappointments get him down, yet you can’t help but sense that a part of him wonders what more he has to do to catch the attention of representative selectors.
Tolman was a notable absentee from last week’s City v Country clash after debuting for Country last year, the Canterbury front-rower unlucky to miss selection again given that, of all the forwards to take the field in Mudgee, only Trent Merrin has averaged more metres than him in 2012.
A member of NSW coach Ricky Stuart’s Blues in Waiting squad just a little over 12 months ago, he wasn’t named in this year’s Emerging Blues and appears to have slipped almost entirely off the representative radar.
“I’m not too sure,” Tolman says when asked what more he must do to figure in State of Origin calculations.
“I’m definitely disappointed to miss a rep side (Country). Everyone wants to play that high quality of football. But you know, I need to take the positives out of it and say to myself that I wasn’t good enough to get picked.
“I have to go away and try and improve my game so that I do get picked. There are plenty of guys that missed out and were probably more unlucky than me. There is still a long way to go and plenty of rep games to play this year so I just have to put my head down.
“I mean, nobody gets picked for Origin because their name has been mentioned in the past. Everyone earns their spot and that’s the way it should be. I’m no different. I have to play the best I can and hopefully I get noticed one day.”
Tolman admits that he isn’t quite sure what it is the selectors are looking for this year – he hasn’t heard from them and doesn’t expect to – and insists that he can’t let such concerns get to him.
“To be honest, I’m not really worried about that. I just have to worry about my form at the Bulldogs and those other things will come from that,” he explains.
“For me, Des (Hasler) is my club coach. I’m not sure what [the selectors] are like with other players but I just go out there and try to play the game that Des and the coaching staff at the Bulldogs want from me. If that’s what the rep coaches want then that would be great.
“I’d love to play for NSW or Country or whoever it is but for now I just have to play well for the Bulldogs and help us get our season to where it should be.”
The irony is that Tolman has been in career-best form since joining Canterbury from Melbourne last season, his strong debut season for the Bulldogs in 2011 encouraging him to add some new dimensions to his game.
Once solely focused on getting his side moving forward, the 23-year-old has worked closely with new coach Des Hasler this year in an effort to take his game to the next level.
“I guess I base my game around hard work and doing the little things right and I think I need to keep doing that, but also trying to get a bit of second phase into my play,” he says. “I think that will add a new dimension to my game and will give me something else to play well with. That’s all I’m trying to do.
“Then again, it’s all very well to say that – but you need players around you to help you out and tip you off when there is a pass on. So we’re all working in the forwards to get those combinations right.
“I’m pretty lucky in the sense that we’ve got some good front-rowers in the side in James Graham and Greg Eastwood who are internationals and Sam Kasiano who has really come of age this year. I just go out there and do my job.
“Last year I had a good year but there are still plenty of things I can improve on going into this season. I’ve been trying to work on that with Des and the coaching staff.”
Tonight’s blockbuster clash with Manly looms as a huge game not only for Tolman – who no doubt has a point to prove – but also for the Bulldogs as a whole following consecutive losses to South Sydney and Melbourne.
Having kicked off the season in style with wins over Penrith, St George Illawarra and the Warriors, they have since lost three from four and face an emotional clash tonight against Hasler’s former club, who welcome back star trio Kieran Foran and Brett and Glenn Stewart.
Tolman says it is important the Bulldogs don’t let the occasion influence their performance, insisting Hasler has moved on from the drama surrounding his sudden exit from Manly in the off-season.
“He is more aware that it is a big game for us than anything else – I’m sure he is not thinking about himself,” Tolman explains. “It’s team first and I think that’s what we need to do. We need to go out there and not worry about what’s happened in the past.
“To be honest, it’s got nothing to do with us as a playing group, so we need to not worry about what everyone else says and concentrate on ourselves.
“We’re in a situation now where we’ve lost three of our last four and that’s not good for any side – especially for us. We’re trying to build our confidence. We’ve got a new coach and are trying to learn his style. But that’s no excuse.”
Tolman said he was confident that the Bulldogs had identified their shortcomings in recent weeks.
“A few disciplinary areas like ball control and penalties let us down,” he says. “There are a few little things we need to change but it’s not panic stations. We’ve just got to fix those little things up. And they are individual, easy errors. That’s the positive I suppose you can take out of it – it should be easy to fix.
“We’ve been going pretty well right across the park but it’s just those little individual errors that are letting us down. It’s a big challenge against Manly this weekend. They’re in a similar situation to us so it’s a huge game for both sides.”
FIVE MINUTES WITH AIDEN TOLMAN:
Favourite TV Show?
“At the moment I’ve been watching The Voice. I think my girlfriend got me into it. Once you watch it it’s quite good. It’s a bit different to the other ones.”
“It would have to be lasagna.”
When you’re not playing footy, what’s your ideal way to spend a Saturday?
“At the beach.”
What would your partner say is your worst habit?
“Leaving clothes around the house.”
If you weren’t playing footy, what would you be doing?
“When I finish I want to be a school teacher.”
And finally, what do you think of team-mate James Graham’s new nickname, BUPA (the unhealthy Aiden Tolman)?
“I think it’s a classic! Tony Grimaldi came up with it and it’s one of the best ones I’ve heard. It’s good that I didn’t get the BUPA, I got the good-looking one. Makes it better for me!”