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BELIEVE it or not, but Shaun Fensom’s famous tackling exploits have taken a quite significant hit this year.
Sure, five tackles less per game doesn’t sound like much – “but my shoulders are thankful for it,” Fensom adds – and the extra 120 seconds a week he’s spent sitting on the bench might’ve contributed to it.
But the rapidly maturing kid who wears Canberra’s history-laden No.13 jumper will have you know that he’s put a ton of work into getting those numbers down.
While some of you might’ve spent the past week scratching your head trying to figure out exactly how there’s a game in the nation’s capital this Sunday, Fensom this week detailed to Big League just how one goes from 47 tackles a game to a more disappointing 42 and become a lean, mean, green machine.
“I didn’t want to be a one-dimensional player,” he puts simply. “There are always things to work on and I always strive to get better and better. And my attack was the one area that I thought needed the most work and it was the big key area that I focused on in the off-season.”
Fensom politely chuckles at the mere mention of his 183-centimetre frame being likened to a tackling android.
But when informed of a “Backyard Blitz” style makeover in 2012 where his line-breaks have tripled, tackle busts have doubled, and his average metres have gone up a staggering 20 metres, not even Robocop himself could believe what he’s transformed into in the space of 12 months.
“I actually wasn’t aware of all those stats, but I guess it shows the work that I have put in off the field is starting to show on it,” he says.
“I don’t really get annoyed when I get known for my tackling. People will always have their opinions but I know I do a lot of work off the ball as well for my team. And my peers realise that. As long as they’re happy, I’m happy.”
Old mate Terry Campese, we think, is happy. The sidelined skipper gives him enough credit for a 24-hour call overseas, just before stopping short of labelling him the next Laurie Daley.
“All the hard work that he puts in on the field and in the gym is starting to pay off. His hit-ups and metres gained are up there for best in the competition,” he says.
“And he even plays a bit of a ball-playing role, especially with his offloads. At the moment, he’s just standing in tackles and creating second-phase play for us... It’s been a pleasure watching him from the sideline.”
Coach David Furner is another who probably expresses a sigh of relief every time Fensom gets a mention as a NSW Origin bolter next season.
Even with four seven-foot creatures in his monster pack, it was the previously under-fire coach’s idea to throw Fensom more ball this season.
“Part of it has been my body maturing more physically so I’ve gotten stronger and added a bit more footwork,” he explains.
“But using my other forwards around me better to come forward with me and take a few numbers off me and increase the number of one-on-one tackles that I get gives me a better chance for an offload. And now I’m adding twice as much in attack than what I did last year. And I think that’s more important than averaging five more tackles a game.”
Fensom’s remarkable transformation into an attacking weapon is a large part of Canberra’s stunning rise into becoming a semi-final calibre team. A side that has, over the past three months, shattered the notion that they’re a one-dimensional team. One that has relied, sometimes inconsolably, on their inspirational but oft-injured Campese.
“He’s a great player and he adds a lot on the field, leading the boys around the way he does. And when we first lost him, we went into a slump and had to dig ourselves out of it,” Fensom says.
“But to our credit, we did. Both Joshy McCrone and Sam Williams have done an outstanding job leading the team around and our forwards too are getting us on the front foot well.
“Footy’s a team sport and you can’t rely on one person to win. The whole 17 players that are out there need to put in to get a win. Now we know there’s no such thing as a one-man team.”
And that you don’t have to make those extra five tackles a game, either.