Bolton overcomes greatest fear in stellar year
A fear of needles bordering on a phobia did not stop Scott Bolton inflicting maximum pain on the opposition in what was a season for the ages by the Cowboys prop in 2017.
The 30-year-old displayed class and bravery in playing all 28 games while being needled up for months on end with a painful sternum injury.
With that injury now healed, Cowboys assistant coach Todd Payten insists Bolton is primed to play with more confidence in 2018.
After James Tamou left the Cowboys for the Panthers and Ben Hannant retired at the end of 2016, and Matt Scott did his knee in round two of 2017, someone needed to step up. Enter Bolton.
The trusty warhorse's charges into the fray and subtle skills with his feet and hands inspired the Cowboys during their march to the grand final.
Behind the scenes, he was brushing aside one of his own fears.
"Bolts is an outdoors man. He loves to fish and he loves to hunt, but I've never seen anyone as petrified of needles in my life as him," Payten told NRL.com.
"For him to get over that almost phobia of needles every week, and get out there and play and perform at training the way he did, is not something that is easily done.
"He was getting needled every game for well over half a season, which is not ideal, and I noticed [on Tuesday] at training he was wearing a sternum pad again."
The needles numbed and took away the pain, but in the two or three days after games in 2017 Payten said the Cowboys noted Bolton was ''in a fair bit of discomfort around the place''.
"Knowing that is going to happen week-in and week-out can drain you physically, and just as much mentally, but Bolts learned to play with pain last year," Payten said.
"I'm not saying that he didn't know how to, but last year was something out of the ordinary for him.
"He was the cornerstone of our pack, along with Jason Taumalolo."
Bolton has played 204 games for the Cowboys since 2007 and Payten noted how he had ''always been pretty much an unsung hero up here'' while surrounded by an array of Test and Origin stars.
It is that reliability that had Bolton ready to rise to the challenge.
"It was a classic example last year where before I knew it I was one of the senior players in the squad," Bolton said.
"So it is important to prepare well and prepare for anything so if you get the opportunity you are ready to go.
"I've had the same mindset over the years whether I was coming off the bench or starting. It is just important that when you get out there that you do your job."
A month out from the 2017 finals Bolton's body was weary but he kept delivering.
"Last year probably pushed him outside of his comfort zone in some ways and he really stepped up and delivered," Payten said.
"Playing in the GF, although we lost, was a reward for a lot of guys like Bolts and their persistence.
"There were two or three games where he was punching out a whole first half, which is not common for front-rowers.
“He was playing 60-plus minutes per week … and making 20 carries and 30 tackles."
If all goes to plan, Bolton shouldn't have to work as hard this year with Matt Scott back and Jordan McLean joining the club.
"As a result, his quality will be higher and he will not necessarily be laying the platform, but running off other guys within the pack," Payten said
"If anything, he has got a lot of belief out of last year."
One thing opponents must beware of in 2018 is underestimating Bolton.
"He is quite skilful, Bolts. He has a nice little short pass and he's had experience on the edge early in his career," Payten said.
"Without Matt Scott there he did a lot more talking in meetings, and shouldered some of that responsibility.
"He is not overly vocal, but when he spoke the guys listened because he is a smart footballer who knows the intricacies of playing in the middle.
"I enjoy coaching him and I think the other guys enjoy playing with him."