For the first time in a long time, Aaron Woods is happy. Yet still, he hides it. Seven long years he has waited to play in the finals again, but he can’t shake this overwhelming fear that perhaps he doesn’t deserve to be happy.
"Mate, I don’t want to talk it up too much," he says.
"Let’s talk about Teddy. I’m happy to talk about Teddy."
Anything to avoid the spotlight, these days, such is the impact the intensity of it has had on Woods during the past 18 months.
So can you believe you’re playing finals footy?
Woods stops and thinks about it. Trying to work out the words to express his pride in the predicament he now finds himself in.
But you can see his mind ticking over. How does he say it without looking like he’s rubbing it into the Wests Tigers? What does he say to avoid looking bitter at Canterbury?
Soon he comes to the realisation that no good can come from him celebrating his latest successes.
"Nah lad, let’s talk about Teddy, he’s killing it," Woods says.
OK. Let’s forget the fact you left your junior club for a team that shopped you around just a few months into a four-year deal.
Don’t worry about that Origin jersey you lost and how you’ve turned it all around at the Sharks as a bench player ahead of your first finals series since 2011 that will likely culminate in you holding on to your Kangaroos spot.
So you were saying about Teddy?
"I’m honestly over the moon for him," Woods said.
"I know how much it meant to him to play finals football. I saw how much it ate away at him not being able to do that before. He publicly stated he left to play finals football and now here he is arguably the form player of the comp."
It’s amazing what 12 months can do.
Last year Woods and Tedesco were all but signed, sealed and delivered as a package with Mitchell Moses to the Bulldogs after a late-night secret tour of the club’s Belmore facility.
On Saturday, after the qualifying final between the Sydney Roosters and Cronulla Sharks, one player will be 80 minutes away from a grand final.
"That's why I texted him on Sunday night. Regardless of who wins or loses this week, one of us will have to win just one game of football to play in the decider," Woods said.
"I want to win, but I'm not going to lie - I'll be happy for him too if he's there. It's been a pretty tough old year.
"But everything happens for a reason and here we are. I’ve honestly always wanted what was best for Teddy. I wanted him to be the player we all knew he was going to be.
"To see what he did for NSW in Origin this year, that was pretty special to watch. He’s a special player. I know what he’s been through and the pain of what he has to endure, which is all part of why it means so much to play his first ever finals game."
On Sunday night, Tedesco posted a photo of himself on Instagram in a Roosters jersey with the caption "Finals footy, how good".
Luke Brooks, presumably midway through the end of the Wests Tigers’ end-of-season celebrations, fired back: "Finals footy, what’s that?".
Some comedy gold from the Tigers’ player of the year. Underneath was an emoji sent from Woods - a man who has avoided anything to do with social media for 12 months.
It was a crown. All hail the new king of Bondi.
"What that kid has been through with his body over the years, no one has the right to deny him of the happiness this week will bring him," Woods said.
Roosters team mates hype up Tedesco v Holmes battle
"People said he would never be the same player again, but he's better than ever before. He will be the first to admit he took some time to find his feet at the Roosters but he's flying now.
"He's probably the best fullback in the game at the moment with Valentine Holmes."
In sharing his joy in Tedesco’s feats, you can’t help but feel sorry for Woods. But that’s just it. He doesn’t want sympathy. He doesn’t want to point the finger or look back at what could have been.
He just wants to be happy. Even if that means avoiding happiness to be happy.
"I’m sweet mate," he says.
"I don’t need to talk about how I feel. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing to keep feeling like this."
Elliott'a antics out of character
Adam Elliott was plastered on the front page of The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday in nothing but his birthday suit. That morning he was preparing to undergo off-season surgery. Those close to Elliott say he’s shaken up by the incident.
He is one of the genuine nice guys of the competition and was Canterbury’s nominee for the Ken Stephen Medal for outstanding service to the community. Even though he was embarrassed with the events that unfolded on Mad Monday, he has previously conducted himself like a role model since entering the NRL.
Why will your team be the premiers?
Ponga question mark for PM's XIII
Newcastle are weighing up whether Kalyn Ponga should represent Australia in the Prime Minister’s XIII game against Papua New Guinea in a month’s time. Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga will predominantly pick players that missed out on finals football and Ponga is in line for selection.
However, Ponga missed the last two games of the year through injury and the Knights aren’t sure if he will be right to play against the Kumuls in Port Moresby on October 6. The likes of Jake and Tom Trbojevic, Nick Cotric and David Klemmer are expected to be part of the match.
Gibbs can see Clearys now
Bryce Gibbs was awarded life membership at the Wests Tigers presentation at Curzon Hall on Monday night, and in typical Gibbs fashion he left the room in raptures with a comment he made in his acceptance speech.
"Hoepfully Ivan can stick around … maybe you can bring your son next year too". Well played.
2018 Finals wild card?
Klemmer cuts ties with agent
David Klemmer has sorted out the details of his drawn-out split from his agent David Riolo and will be free to appoint another manager in the new year.
Right time for Wright to retire
NRL journeyman Jonathan Wright looks set to hang up the boots. The 31-year-old Manly utility back is unlikely to go around again next year after earlier stints at Parramatta, Canterbury, Cronulla and the Warriors.
Meanwhile, Sydney Roosters back-up half Mitchell Cornish appears to be heading back to the nation’s capital to play in the Canberra local league after two years at the Tricolours.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.