Tom Learoyd-Lahrs is channelling some of rugby league's greatest ever coaches as he steers a Tigers outfit he chose to mentor because of his great faith in them.
The former NRL star - who played under such coaching luminaries as Wayne Bennett and Craig Bellamy - is in his debut season as coach of the Greater Northern Tigers under-18 side. The Tigers appointment came some five years after he ended a 120-game NRL career that also spawned four Test matches for Australia and four Origins for the Blues.
The Tamworth-based father of three will oversee the Tigers' second round Laurie Daley Cup clash against the Central Coast Roosters at Farrer on Saturday, as his charges look to remain undefeated following a 32-4 defeat of the Newcastle Knights in Maitland last Sunday.
While it is early days in the annual competition, the signs are promising - as a man who enjoyed great success as a player guides a side stacked with talented young men looking to make their own history. The appealing recipe is sure to lure a big crowd to John Simpson Oval on Saturday.
Learoyd-Lahrs, 34, has a deep connection to a number of the Greater Northern players, having coached them at the Bears for years. There are other Greater Northern players that he got to know at Farrer, where he has worked as the Aboriginal liaison officer for the past year. (He led the Bears' under-18 side to the 2019 premiership).
"It's just one of those year groups," he said of the Tigers. "I thought, 'Well, since I've got a relationship with a lot of the kids already ... this would be a really good one to try and jump on board and take the reins for this year.'
"I honestly just looked at them, and I know they're great young boys, and I see a lot of potential in the squad. And I thought, 'Well, I wanna try and help them reach that potential.'
"You just wouldn't throw your hand up to coach any group of boys. I like to be a little bit selective. And I know these boys work hard, and I know they've got the footy in them. So I'm glad I'm in charge of this group."
The "real positive" to come out of the defeat of Newcastle, Learoyd-Lahrs said, was Greater Northern winning so convincing despite having a match completion rate of only 59 per cent.
"Anyone who knows rugby league will tell ya that you don't win games of football when you're completing at 59 per cent," he said, adding that the Tigers will "have a lot of success" if they play more "ruthless" football by "building pressure and staying in the grind longer".
The Tigers' defensive effort against the Knights also impressed Learoyd-Lahrs, who played under Melbourne Storm coaching maestro Craig Bellamy, renowned for his sides' fortress-like defence.
I'd like to think that a lot of things I'm doin' now with the boys are traits you'd see from blokes like Craig Bellamy.Tom Learoyd-Lahrs
"I'd like to think that a lot of things I'm doin' now with the boys are traits you'd see from blokes like Craig Bellamy," Learoyd-Lahrs said.
The former forward enforcer will stand down as the Bears' under-18 coach at the end of the season due to time constraints, but he enjoys coaching and would like to stay involved in junior rep mentoring.
Peter Stevens - coach of the under-18 Tigers last season and Greater Northern's pathways manager - said the organisation was lucky to have big Tom. A case in point: "A lot of what I do is derived obviously from little bits and pieces of all of the coaches I had, and I was lucky enough to have some great coaches," Learoyd-Lahrs said.
Tigers: Liam Ball, Kobe Bone, Hugh Collins, Pichai Dixon, Harrison Freeman, Blake Ginman, Mitchell Henderson, Daniel Kelly, Kaleb McMillan Bassett, Brayden Reid, Mackenzie Shepherdson, Jackson Shade, Mark Simon, Luke Smith, Jacob Sukanaivalu, Toby Taggart, Jack Todd, Sebastian Pianko.