Another year, another shot at playing State of Origin – that’s the mantra Canterbury prop Aiden Tolman is living by as he continues his quest to make his long-awaited NSW debut this season.
A member of the ‘Blues in Waiting’ squad in each of the past three seasons, Tolman has long been considered among the best players yet to play Origin and has come agonisingly close to selection on a number of occasions since moving to the Bulldogs from Melbourne three years ago.
But with Laurie Daley taking over from Ricky Stuart as Blues coach this season, 2013 looms as his best chance yet and, ironically, it could well come down to tomorrow night’s showdown with Wests Tigers youngster Aaron Woods as to who grabs a front-row spot.
“It’s definitely a goal of mine to play representative football,” Tolman told NRL.com this week, having just re-signed a new deal to stay at Canterbury until 2017. “I was in the Country side a few weeks ago and it was a really great experience to play alongside the calibre of players in that team and against City as well who had some great players.
“Definitely I would love to play Origin but I know that I’ve got to be playing good football for that opportunity to come along. I’ve been in this situation before so whatever happens, in a sense it’s not up to me. It’s all external and I’ve just got to worry about playing well for the Bulldogs.”
Asked about his head-to-head clash with Woods, who sat alongside him in Daley’s ‘Blues in Waiting’ squad at the start of the year, Tolman said: “He’s a quality player and we’ll have to do a job on him this week but I’ve just got to play my game within the team. I’m with the Bulldogs and we just need to start getting some wins on the board. That’s my main goal at the moment.”
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Canterbury has endured a tough start to the 2013 season with injuries and some indifferent form seeing them win just one of their opening six games before finally notching their second win against Cronulla last week.
Most notable has been their lack of impact up front. Having dominated opponents through the middle during last year’s run to the finals, Tolman (127 metres) is one of only two Bulldogs players to have averaged more than 100 metres per game this season – the other, Drury Low, isn’t even in the top 17 at the moment – but insisted he still had plenty to work on if he was to impress NSW selectors in the coming weeks.
“I’ve tried to build my game around consistency,” Tolman said. “I’ve done that in some sense but I think I’ve still got a lot to improve on. Obviously we haven’t been going too well and everyone has to look at their own backyard before they start judging other people so that’s all we’ve been doing. There has been a lot of searching for answers going on, both individually and as a team.
“My main goal is, I’m more of a workhorse and I try and get through as much work as I can and that’s what suits my game. I suppose the other guys try and get through as much power as possible. Whatever comes my way I try and do but it’s only early in the season and I‘ve got a lot of improvement in me. I’ll just keep building on that as the year goes on.”
Tolman welcomed the return from suspension of James Graham this week but insisted the Bulldogs couldn’t simply expect the England international to solve all of their problems.
“He has got a great work rate so that will definitely help out the middle, and his ability to ball-play,” the 27-year-old said. “He is also a leader within our team so he will definitely add some experience. He is a great footballer so we’re glad to have him back but he isn’t going to be the answer to everything. Every player has things to work on.”
Having faced a daunting draw in the early rounds that included games against North Queensland, Melbourne, South Sydney, Sydney Roosters, Manly and Cronulla, the Bulldogs will finally head into Friday night’s clash as favourites given the Wests Tigers’ crippling injury crisis.
But Tolman warned that it would be unwise to write off the young Tigers.
“We have to approach it the same as any other game,” he said. “They’ve still got a side that is capable of winning the game so we’ve got to go out there and make sure we turn up with the right attitude and play our best footy because if we don’t we’re going to get burnt. They’ve still got some quality players in Farah and Woods.
“We know that we can get our season back on track with a win. If we stick to our plan and play well we will more than likely get a win, so that’s what we need to do.”