There is nothing about Tom Taber that would lead anyone to assume there is a svelte speedster buried inside him.
But as the veteran Bundarra front-rower prepares to confront the might of the Tim Coombes-led Bulldogs pack in Saturday’s Second Division grand final in Barraba, he has revealed that he was once a spring-footed back.
“I used to be a fitter and thinner fullback when younger,” the 34-year-old butcher said. “Now I’m old, I actually enjoy playing in the forwards. I used to be real quick. You wouldn’t believe it now.”
Indeed. The Taber of today is a slow-moving, large mass with an incomplete smile, who rams opposition defensive lines with what must be a reassuring monotony for his teammates.
What was once young and agile is now weathered and rigid. Perhaps the only remnant of the former is the swerving run he often employees as he hits the ball up. Like a tugboat if a drunk skipper was at the wheel.
He’s not pretty, but he’s effective. And the same applies to the Bears.
Bundarra, who disappeared for 20 years before re-emerging as the rebranded Bears last season, were not supposed to get this far.
And Barraba, on a 13-match winning streak, are hot favourites to claim their first premiership since 2013.
Taber said: “No one gave us a chance to make the semis, let alone the grand final. I think we’ve enjoyed it. When it looked like we couldn’t make the finals, we started playing better footy.”
The Bulldogs have not named five-eighth Luke White in their squad. He has a knee injury and is being given until the last minute to prove his fitness.
Bulldogs coach Jesse Phillips said the Bears would provide his side with a stern test in the forwards.
“And they obviously went round Kootingal on the weekend [in Saturday’s preliminary final win],” he said. “Their edges are going to be pretty strong as well.”
BARRABA: 1. Jeremy York; 2. Dylan McArdle; 3. Beau White; 4. Zac Mallise; 5. Mick Rutherford; 6. Tom Mellor; 7. Kris Halloran; 8. Tim Coombes; 9. Adam Russell; 10. Jock Mallise; 11. Lincoln Brown; 12. Shaun Spence; 13. Justin Fox; 14. Jonathon Phillips; 15. Blake York; 16. Morgan Phillips; 17. Nick Sweeney; 18. Jacob Hawley; 19. Luke Blackford; 20. Rhys Phillips.
BUNDARRA: 1. Jacob David; 2. Tom Colwell; 3. Sam Waller; 4. Terry Lea; 5. Jordan Beveridge; 7. Luke Deaves; 8. Troy Dawson; 9. Brad Waters; 10. Tom Taber; 11. James Deaves; 12. Matt Duthie; 13. Jayden Field; 14. Anthony Dittman; 15. Todd Cleal; 16. Nick Dawson; 17. Les Perrett; 18. Kye McLennan; 20. Jake Moore.