Scott Blanch read the story on him contained in the framed, glass-covered memento of him being named Group 4 player of the year and his eyes stopped at his age.
“They got my age wrong,” he said, pointing out that he was 28, not 29.
A minor mistake, to be sure, but when you are approaching the rugby league senior ranks like Blanch is, every year is vital.
Speaking after being presented with the award at North Tamworth Bowling Club, the Bears captain-coach said his game had changed since he returned to Tamworth for the 2015 season after four seasons at Manly (he didn’t play NRL) and a stint in France.
Age meant he was now more of a ball player, he said, instead of the “runner” he had been back then, and when he won his first player of the year award in 2016.
This year he revamped the way he approaches the game after taking on the coaching duties for the first time. It has been a successful debut mentoring stint. But in the end, he will be judged on whether he can secure North Tamworth a fifth straight premiership.
They will attempt to do that against Gunnedah in the grand final at Jack Woolaston Oval on Sunday afternoon.
He admitted to being “a bit shocked” to poll so well this year in the vote, given that he recalibrated his thinking after being named coach. But he is a deserved winner, serving as the ringmaster for Norths’ lethal left edge.
“Probably 2016 was a little bit different in my frame of mind to this year, because in 2016 I probably said to myself, ‘I’d love to win the player of the year,’” he said. “Whereas this year it was more based around my coaching goals.
“And obviously one of those goals was to make the grand final,” he said, adding that he wanted to maintain the systems implemented by his predecessor, Brad McManus, while delivering “my own twist to it”.
After saying he is “getting on a little bit” in age, he pointed to the ages of three players who polled well in the award – Hayden Smith, Mitch Doring and Fraser Evans – and commented how youngsters like them are rejuvenating the competition, and “that’s good to see”.
“Young players are coming through, and I’ve got to stay at the top of my game to stay in front of them, because they’ve got [fresher] legs on their side.”
Blanch polled 17 points, followed by Smith of Gunnedah (11 points). On 10 points were Kootingal-Moonbi duo Brodie Sowter and Doring, and Evans (Dungowan).
Evans, a front-rower, was named rookie of the year, while Bears fullback Kimberley Resch claimed the league-tag player of the year award.