Report: JEFF STEPHENSON

THERE were times last year when Tom Salter must have driven the Redland coaching and medical staff mad as he tried almost beyond the measure of human endeavour to get back and play with the Bombers.

A season-ending knee injury suffered on the eve of the 2017 pre-season and which resulted in surgery had ruled him out for the year, but Tom, being the driven, hard-nosed, never-leave-a-stone unturned individual that he is, refused to concede his year was over.

He set targets. He marked major milestones along his recovery track. He ticked this box and that chart as the rehabilitation progressed. He started running.

Then he kicked a football and the desire within ran more ferociously as he worked feverishly to prove everyone – doctors, physios, coaches, team managers, even family – wrong. At the gym he embarked on a program adding more and more physicality and putting his body through more torturous sessions with each visit.

“The whole time was one of pure frustration,” Tom recalled this week. “Even at the gym I was probably doing more than I was supposed to be doing or should I say that I was allowed to do.” His role as runner on game day really didn’t help much “as awesome as it was to be involved” because it simply added to the frustration.

“Being out there and not being able to play was really hard to take.” So, despite his best and sometimes misguided efforts, it finally came to pass that the most esteemed member of our playing group would not make the cut for 2017. He had tried everything – given everything. He wasn’t about to concede anything to anyone. “In the end, I suppose common sense prevailed.” “There were times I wasn’t a nice person to be around. I guess Sophie took the brunt of that.”

It’s been a hell of a journey, but one our former captain and inspirator-extraordinaire has put behind him as he is now out there again doing what he does best – playing strong, resolute, attacking, hard-at-it football. He will tell you it hasn’t been easy fitting back into the high-level atmosphere of the NEAFL. He was probably a little tentative at first, but after surviving a couple of knocks on the knee and with his “game sense” returning Tom’s been a tower of strength these past few weeks. “I think the best thing that’s happened is that I haven’t lost too much leg speed – not that I had too much to start with.

“I guess that’s one good advantage of being slow.” The next hurdle he overcame was when he suffered a slight hamstring strain early on. When being attended to by training staff he was asked was “the twang” on the same leg as his “bad knee”. “I’d forgotten which knee it was.” That was it – he was back. “You know there’s so much credit that has to go to Cody and all the training staff and everyone else – you sometimes forget their importance.”

Next on the agenda was to work on the ever-pressing need for game time – to get match fitness back into the frame and he’ll tell you he was as nervous as any newcomer as season 2018 roared around. That presented more frustration as his return really didn’t match his expectation in those first few weeks of “the comeback”. He might have tried too hard. Perhaps he was a tad off. Whatever the case he was less than pleased with his output and suggested to Leigh and the coaching staff he was unhappy with his impact on games. He floated the idea of being given a run on the ball to extract more involvement and get a better feel for things.

The flashpoint hit in the Bombers’ big win against Northern Territory when he turned it on with a confidence-boosting midfield role and hasn’t looked back since exemplified by classic Tom Salter displays when adjudged Redlands’ best player against the Giants and again last week in his best performance this year against the powerful Sydney Swans. He’s achieved some wonderful milestones in his 10-year Redland career – Grogan Medallist as the NEAFL Player of the Year, Dowling Medallist with the Bombers, Redland Hall of Famer – the list goes on.

He would dearly love to see the club challenging for finals this year and has no doubt the Bombers can finish the season strongly. “We’ve got the best tactical coaches in the league,” he said. “We know we can produce and we do it in patches.“We’ve got to apply ourselves for longer. The effort must be there, the determination, the will, the ability to stick to our roles. “We need to will ourselves to do better – it’s a team game. “We’ve got the group that can turn the season around.

“I’ve got no doubt that we can turn things around and start putting together some big wins after the bye.” That’s our Tom. Inspirational. Full of belief. Confident. Imploring his teammates to play well. Morale-booster. Let’s not forget – most importantly – team man. There is one more major statistic heading his way as we head further down season 2018.

All things being equal Tom will play his 150th match for the Bombers’ against Northern Territory at Scottsdale Park on July 7. That is another nice little piece of “trivia” he can add to his Redland resume – which really does make for fascinating reading. While he’s happy to reflect on the individual accolades it’s the character and the trait of the TEAM and the relationships formed within that spark his over-riding reason for playing and absorbing football at the elite level.

With all that in mind – GO BOMBERS. To that we can add a very sincere – GO TOM.

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