Coleman: Tom's our unsung hero

By Pete Fairbairn, 08.09.16

The 2016 Buildcorp NRC kicked off last month, and to help build the following and profile of the competition, the Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) has engaged a blogger from each of the eight teams to write for the RUPA website on multiple occasions throughout the season.

Earlier this week we heard from Perth Spirit lock Ross Haylett-Petty about how his side has approached arguably the toughest fixture list in the competition on account of geography, and next up we hear from UC Vikings leader Robbie Coleman.

Play-maker Coleman is one of the most experienced Vikings in the 2016 squad, having made nearly 80 Super Rugby appearances during seven seasons at the Brumbies, and he played in every game of the 2014 NRC before missing last year with injury.

He’s back in 2016 and has played both the Vikings’ opening matches, a big win away to Queensland Country followed by a heavy defeat at home to NSW Country, and this week he wants to write about one of the unsung heroes in the Vikings squad; 22-year-old lock Tom Staniforth.

Robbie Coleman - In His Own Words, Round Three:

I first met Tom Staniforth when I joined the Brumbies at the end of 2008, and he was in the Club’s U14 or U15 program at the time; I noticed him because he’d be around the gym a fair bit. I knew he was a second rower even though he’s not the tallest of locks, and because of that you always kind of knew that if he was going to make it at Super Rugby level he was going to have to add something different to his game.

A few years passed as he finished school and won a 1st XV premiership as Captain of Canberra Grammar School, which was quite a big deal as (my old school) St. Edmunds had been quite dominant for some time. When he finished school, Tom accepted an invitation to come and do pre-season at the Brumbies, off his own back and without a contract.

Tom had a fair few locks in front of him when he first came into the environment and he wasn’t getting paid to be there, but he stood out more than any of the other non-contracted players. Not only did he help make up the numbers for us to train in match situations, but he was also doing the extra fitness work which the non-contracted players don’t usually do.

He was always the first to put his hand up to join in on the fitness and weights extras, which in hindsight was pretty clever because to be completely honest he wasn’t Super Rugby ready and therefore he wasn’t really standing out during the sessions.

What made you take notice of him even back then was his work ethic; it was up there with the most professional guys in the squad, alongside guys who had played for the Wallabies 100 times. He did all the little extras and one percenters, and all he wanted to do was learn.

That hard work eventually paid off, and after playing for Australia U20s in 2013 he signed his first professional deal in 2014. As part of the rite of passage when he signed that first contract, he had to stand up in front of the entire squad and tell all the boys about his first girlfriend; sort of like an initiation, even if it was pretty mild. His response to that was something that I instantly noticed and respected; he was brutally honest and told all the boys that he hadn’t really had a girlfriend before, probably because he was too shy.

It showed he wasn’t afraid to be himself and be honest, and of course now he has a lovely partner Marney and has grown in terms of social skills so much from when he first came in, but that honesty remains exactly the same to this day.

Tom got his first Super Rugby chance when we were hit by a bunch of injuries a couple of years ago, but he lacked a bit of physicality on the gain line and it was a long time between his debut and his next Super Rugby opportunity; 700 days. After his made his debut, I have to honestly say that I wasn’t really sure if he would get another run, despite how good a bloke and how hard a trainer he was.

Heading into the 2016 Super Rugby season with the Brumbies, I’m sure he probably wondered whether he would get another chance and whether he would get re-signed this year when his contract ended, but credit to him because he put his head down and worked as hard as he could. You always want to have great blokes around the Club and we have always had a ‘no dickhead’ policy at the Brumbies, so as far as personalities go we all loved having him around.

He got his chance against the Force in March, and it’s fair to say he hasn’t looked back since; he made 13 Super Rugby appearances this year, and signed a new two-year deal. It’s fair to say that he looks set to have a really long future for the Brumbies now, and possibly even at a higher level if he keeps stepping up like he has been and adding new elements to his game.

On Friday night, he was voted as the Brumbies Rookie of the Year at our Brumby Ball, and it couldn’t have gone to a better guy or a more deserving player. This year he has added so much to his game, not only in terms of finding that next level of physicality but also working so hard on his footwork at the line and his little offloads; we use him as a weapon throwing little tips on to other forwards.

Now, every time he is picked in the team I can’t wait to play with him, and as a ball player I know I can call something on the run and he has he smarts to react to it straight away. He is not a flashy player who demands headlines but he is a local boy who has come through and been told plenty of times that he is not physical or strong enough, and he has just continued to work and get better. He is now one of the most skilful forwards we have, and he is going to have a big career.

Tommy has moved to the backrow for the Vikings so far in this year’s NRC, and at first a few people probably questioned whether he was going to be fast enough to make that switch. In typical Tom fashion, he’s responded by being arguably our best forward in our opening two fixtures and has just been absolutely everywhere.

I think this NRC season for Tom is an opportunity for him to realise that he isn’t a young player any more, just being happy to be selected every week. He has to dominate this competition and be a leader on the team, with the goal of securing a Super Rugby starting spot in 2017.

He can’t be a passenger, and to his credit in the first two rounds he has really stepped up. With the competition growing in skill this year and providing the perfect mix of grit and toughness, but not quite as much defensive pressure as Super Rugby, if Tom creates a little go-forward then that will create space for the backs to score some really exciting tries.

Somebody of his position probably doesn’t hit their peak until they are 27 or 28, and he only has to look at Scott Fardy who is still getting better if he needs inspiration. There is no question about it; you know Tommy will always have your back on the field. As far as a role model goes, other kids who are coming through look at him and see somebody who is always in the gym doing extras, even on his holiday, and somebody who the trainers actually have to kick out of the gym. The most annoying thing about how hard he has trained is that he finally has a six pack now and he won’t put on a shirt around training!

Everybody loves playing with him and loves him as a teammate, and he is definitely an unsung hero among the group. Fans and media might not see it, but we all see the huge amount of work he does off the ball and we think so much of him for it. All of us here at the Club are like brothers but Tom stands out as somebody I am really proud of, and I’m really happy to see his career continue to grow. I am really excited to play the rest of the NRC with him and see him evolve further in Super Rugby next year.

2016 Buildcorp NRC, Round Three (all times local):
- Western Sydney Rams vs. Perth Spirit, 1:00pm Saturday September 10th, Concord Oval, Sydney
- QLD Country vs. Sydney Rays, 3:00pm Saturday September 10th, Bond University, Gold Cast (live on Fox Sports)
- Brisbane City vs. Canberra Vikings, 1:00pm Sunday September 11th, Ballymore, Brisbane
- NSW Country Eagles vs. Melbourne Rising, 3:00pm Sunday September 11th, Magpies Rugby Club, Tamworth (live on Fox Sports)

Pete Fairbairn
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