Tolman bounces back from injury and potential Sharks move
Aiden Tolman is back in form with the backing of Dean Pay to remain at Belmore, aware that it could well have been him and not Aaron Woods shifting to Cronulla had things panned out differently around the longest injury lay-off of his career.
Tolman led from the front once more in Canterbury's seismic 36-22 upset of Brisbane on Thursday night, continuing the impressive run that has seen him average 157 running metres and 36 tackles a game over the past month.
With the Bulldogs' salary cap woes biting hard, Woods wound up at the Sharks days before the June 30 deadline.
A few months earlier Cronulla had also registered their interest in Tolman. Like Woods and fellow Belmore departee Moses Mbye, Canterbury weren't shopping the 29-year-old prop to rivals, but open to offers aware that crunch calls had to be made for the club to claw back any clout in the player market.
Tolman's 10-week ankle injury in April – "the longest I've ever been out of footy" - took any mid-season move well and truly off the table. And a simple, honest message from Pay ensured his front-rower knew exactly where he stood.
"There's always a bit of truth in every story but that one didn't eventuate," Tolman told NRL.com.
"I'm happy where I am now. It's difficult when you're in a situation like what we've had here, you've got to keep all your options open and on the table.
"At that stage at the start of the year a new coach had come in and you'd say he didn't have the team that he probably wanted. I just had to keep playing footy but it didn't really bother me.
"It was before I got injured and there's always rumours going around and something going on somewhere, particularly with our club and the guys we've had moving on, we've had more than our fair share you'd say over the last two seasons.
"I think everyone's name has been tossed up at one point or another.
"But Deano was up front. He said 'I want you in the team and that's the end of it'.
"You can't do much more than that can you? You just move forward from there. I love the Dogs and have never wanted to leave and it didn't eventuate anyway.
"I'm here for another two seasons. That's what I need to worry about now. I love this place."
Tolman is contracted until the end of 2020, by which time he'll have racked up a decade of service in blue and white after a breakout couple of seasons with Melbourne.
A popular member of the playing group and one of the NRL's more consistent props over the past 10 years, watching his young teammates slump as low as 15th on the ladder without him was particularly tough for the Bulldogs vice-captain.
With their first back-to-back wins in over a year, Tolman can see light at the end of Canterbury's tumultuous tunnel, with a more enterprising attack in recent weeks helping his game especially as the season comes to a close.
"I'm starting to get a bit of confidence in the way we're playing and I think the style of footy we've been playing over the last month has helped everyone in our team play towards their potential," Tolman said.
"In your career you'd like to be successful every year but it's not always going to happen like that.
"There are going to be tough times where you do struggle but you just have to be honest with yourself and your teammates and you eventually will come through the other side.
"I think we're showing those positive signs now. We're starting to put some really good games together, we've still got four games to go this season and we want to finish it off on a high."