It was a moment in Aiden Tolman’s 250th match against Cronulla that helped ensure the 33-year-old prop achieves the 300-game milestone for the Sharks in Friday night’s clash with the Knights at PointsBet Stadium.
Tolman was playing for Canterbury, who were leading 14-12 with just 90 seconds remaining in the round 15 match when Cronulla’s Jack Williams fielded a kick near his own line and raced 90 metres before being tackled just short of the tryline.
With the Bulldogs defence struggling to get onside and stretched on their right edge, Sharks halfback Chad Townsend grubbered for Josh Morris on the wing but Tolman got back into the in-goal to dive on the loose ball and save the day for his team.
The effort play that made Morris want Tolman
Cronulla coach John Morris was a shattered man in the coach’s box but when the Bulldogs decided not to re-sign Tolman for the following season he swooped to secure him for the Sharks.
“That play typifies who Aiden Tolman is,” said Morris, who is now on the coaching staff at South Sydney. “He is always leading the way in all the effort areas of the game and he will do absolutely anything for the team.
“When the opportunity came up to sign Aiden at the Sharks in 2020, I couldn’t have signed him quick enough as I knew what he stood for and the influence he would have on the youth in the team.
“You won’t get a better character in the game than Aiden Tolman and it is fitting that he achieves this outstanding 300 game milestone.”
After playing in an era when 35 of the 41 players to have reached the 300-game milestone achieved the feat, Tolman will now be the only current player to have done so.
Canberra centre Jarrod Croker (291) and Wests Tigers prop James Tamou (288) are the next closest.
Tolman debuted for the Storm as 18-year-old in round 6 of the 2008 season and he has been a favourite of coaches and team-mates ever since.
“He is probably the most professional bloke I have ever played with,” Dragons utility Moses Mbye said of his former Bulldogs team-mate of five years. “The amount of places he turns up on the field where he shouldn’t be is phenomenal.
“He does all the things that the TV screen doesn’t see. He is Mr One Per Cent, and he’s a guy who would be one of the first picked in my side. I really enjoyed playing with him because he just does all of the stuff that doesn’t get recognised.”
Team-mates pay tribute to Tolman
Cronulla's star recruit Dale Finucane, who played his first three seasons in the NRL alongside Tolman before leaving for Melbourne in 2016, said he had given him an insight into the work ethic required to have a successful NRL career.
“He is just ultra-consistent. I think the best thing I can say about Tols is that he is such a reliable person and such a reliable player,” Finucane said. “You just feel absolute trust in him when you are on the field.
“When I was at the Bulldogs he was only quite young but he always had an old head on his shoulders and he has always had leadership qualities.
“I can’t give him a big enough rap for his leadership, the calmness he brings to the side and the reliability of him on the team. I don’t think I could give him any more of a rap than to say he is the most trustworthy guy and there is no-one who is more deserving to play 300 games than Tols.”
'I wanted to be like Dallas Johnson'
Tolman, who hails from Kempsey and played for the 2006 Australian Schoolboys and Junior Kangaroos but was never in a junior representative program with an NRL club, will have more than 100 family members and friends at Friday night’s game to help him celebrate.
After joining the Storm as a teenager, he modelled his game on team-mate Dallas Johnson, who also played above his weight and was renowned for his work-rate and work ethic.
“I definitely wouldn’t be in the position I am now if I didn’t go to Melbourne when I first started,” Tolman said. “They taught me what it takes to play first grade, the consistency you need and I think they just instilled those values in me.
“I have always continued to value those things and to cherish the little things that the guys I valued playing with in Melbourne did – Dallas Johnson and those sort of guys. That is who I thought I could be like.
“You want to be the player everyone wants to play with and what that looks like is different to everyone, but what it looks like to me is a guy like Dallas Johnson.
“I thought he epitomised the player you wanted to have in your side at the time I was in Melbourne. He just worked hard in every game, he did all of the little things right, would clean up loose balls, apply kick pressure and kick chase, make 50 tackles per game and play 80 minutes.
“You take different pieces off other guys but that is what I wanted to do.”
Tolman on his 300th game
'Not the most talented'
Tolman lists winning the 2009 grand final against Parramatta as a career highlight and he also helped Canterbury to premiership deciders in 2012 and 2014.
While Craig Bellamy had a huge influence on him in his formative years, Tolman also credits the role played by Storm assistant coaches Michael Maguire, Stephen Kearney and Brad Arthur, saying: "Those guys just set me up for my career".
He is also thankful for the support of his wife Zarinah, and their three children Flynn, Milla and Hudson, during his 15 seasons in the NRL.
“I moved down to Melbourne from Kempsey as an 18-year-old kid with my wife and there was just us down there, so we made it work.
“For me, I think the biggest thing is that I enjoy playing, I enjoy running around on the field and training. It is a great lifestyle or job or whatever you want to call it.
“I haven’t been the most talented bloke to play the game but I would like to think I have put the effort in every time I have played. That is what I have built my career on, and doing the little things well.
“The players I like to play with are the ones who do all the small things well.
"They might not be the biggest superstars in the game but the players you know are going to turn up week-in and week-out, and will have your back when things don’t go to plan, are the ones I want to play with so I have just always tried to be like that.
“I think that people who know rugby league value those sort of players and that is why I have got to as many games as I have.”