Canberra Raiders back-rower Shaun Fensom has a message for those suggesting he needs to reduce his phenomenal defensive work rate for his own good: “It’s not going to happen!”
Controversially overlooked for Country Origin selection in his home town of Coffs Harbour last month despite averaging a phenomenal 47 tackles and 108 metres per game this season, Fensom’s snub caught the eye of former Parramatta tackling machine Nathan Hindmarsh who told The Canberra Times last week that the 24-year-old might have to get used to missing rep footy if he gets “stuck in defensive mode”.
But asked if he would consider changing his relentless style, Fensom told NRL.com this week that “I don’t go out looking to make tackles. It just happens. It’s just where I put myself.
“I don’t know if they’re spotting me or not but as far as I’m concerned that’s my role in this team. It’s my job to get in there and get the hard work done so that our big forwards can go forward.”
It’s an attitude backed by the man that first moved Fensom from the second row to lock five years ago, with former Raiders Under-20s coach Tony Adams, now part of Melbourne’s coaching set-up, insisting the impressive young Raider should stick with what he’s good at.
“Sometimes you just want to contribute to the team and that can take the gloss off what you do with the footy but I think Shaun is very proud of what he does contribute in terms of his work rate and the numbers he racks up,” Adams said. “I think he would take more of a team perspective to it all.
“I don’t think you’ll see him diminish his work rate. That’s what he prides himself on and I think that’s what he is going to make a living on going forward. That is the basis for his game.
“At the end of the day with selections, you either earn it or you don’t and whilst it’s always good to get those types of accolades, as far as he goes and what he contributes to a team he would rather rack up the tackles and not do as much with the footy knowing there are other guys in there that can do that sort of stuff through the middle.”
Adams is as familiar as anyone with Fensom’s abilities and recognised early on that he was best suited to the middle. Captain of Canberra’s 2008 Toyota Cup squad that won the grand final in the competition’s inaugural year, Fensom arrived at the club as a wide-running second-rower but after some experimentation he soon found himself playing big minutes closer in.
“As an edge player, he had a little bit of ball-play but we just thought his work rate was his best attribute so we put him through that middle and he found his niche there,” Adams recalled. “It’s basically the quality of his repeat efforts – that’s where he differs from everyone else – and his ability to play 80 minutes. We thought we’d give him a crack in the back row as well as in the middle but he used to push up in support and had that work rate so he was a ready-made 13, really.”
Fensom’s defensive feats are already legendary. A regular above the 50 and even 60-tackle mark, in 2011 he tied Hindmarsh for the all-time record when he notched a remarkable 75 tackles against Canterbury – going on to make a club record 1135 tackles for the year.
“He wasn’t up at that level in -20s so as he has got better, the more pre-seasons he has got under his belt and the fitter he has become, that’s where he has come into his own,” continued Adams. “But we’d rarely take him off, put it that way. He was playing big minutes from an early age and you’ve got to remember that the -20s is a very quick game so to be able to play big minutes at that level, where the wrestle is nowhere near as good as first grade so the speed of the game tends to be a lot quicker... it was quite amazing.
“He was playing 70-80 minutes every week. That showed what he was capable of.”
Fensom, meanwhile, seems content to continue quietly going about his business. Never one to talk himself up, he has not dwelt on his representative snubbing, telling NRL.com ahead of this week’s clash with Newcastle: “I don’t talk about rep football too much. I just try and do my job for the Raiders.
“Obviously at some stage it would be good but at the moment, after the City-Country game, I’m just concentrating on playing consistent footy for the Raiders.”
Fensom’s resilience is remarkable and his ability to play through pain well known at the Raiders. While the club has endured a seemingly endless battle with injuries across the board over the past two seasons, their durable lock has barely skipped a beat, having missed just four games since the start of 2011.
“It’s all sweet,” he said when asked how his body was holding up. “We have plenty of recovery. With the amount of medical staff we have, if you do have a little niggle it only takes a couple of days for it to be out so you just push through it.
“Maybe it (reducing his workload) would probably save my shoulders but I’m happy in the middle, that’s where I have found my feet.
“And I’m getting some help in there this year. Joel Edwards has been coming in the middle there which is good. We’ve got a lot of depth here at the Raiders that can step up and fill that hole, like Paul Vaughan. He has come in and played two games and hasn’t looked out of place at all.”
The Raiders scored a memorable win in Melbourne last week when they ended the Storm’s 15-match winning run and will be looking to make it four wins from their past five games when they host Newcastle on Sunday afternoon.
Fensom said it was crucial that Canberra kept up the standard they showed last weekend.
“It’s no point beating a top-quality squad the week before then having 40 points put on you. We need to come out and back that up and string two or three wins together,” he said.