Cowboys' reluctant leader steps up
Well before Johnathan Thurston's shoulder fell out of its joint and pre-dating even Matt Scott's snapped ACL, senior players at the Cowboys confronted Scott Bolton and demanded more.
It wasn't the first time he had been challenged. When Paul Green arrived in late 2013 he brought Bolton into his office and laid it out straight: how long did he want to continue being a part-time footballer and full-time fisherman?
Three years after the coach issued that ultimatum the playing group approached the now 30-year-old and insisted that he step forward and become a part of the team's leadership group.
Content to sit in the backblocks while the superstars commanded the stage, Bolton let his actions on the field do all his talking for him but in the wake of the departures of both Ben Hannant and James Tamou players such as Matt Scott knew the team needed more.
"We lost a couple of senior guys over the last few years and we just thought that it was about time he took on that bit of responsibility," Scott tells NRL.com.
"We thought he'd dodged it for long enough and it was time for him to step up and contribute a bit more to the team off the field as well as on.
"He got thrown into the leadership group at the start of the year, purely on the back of peer review and how everyone saw him.
"He didn't really want that and we talked him into it and I think it was probably the best thing for him and the club because a few months down the track I'm injured and JT's injured and he's really stepped up his role as a leader of the club."
As someone who has been at the club for more than a decade Bolton needed only look around at the youth in the squad to understand the importance of taking on a more senior role.
Although teammates such as Scott describe Bolton as being "quite intelligent game-wise" the rugged front-rower preferred to keep his thoughts in video review sessions very much to himself, something that has also changed in 2017.
"At the start it wasn't difficult but it was uncomfortable," Bolton said of being more vocal in review sessions.
"That role has sort of grown on me now as it probably should have.
"I'm 30 years old now, I've been at the club for 12 years so that sort of role takes time to do but it's been very rewarding.
"Being a leader has really pushed me to be more accountable for what I'm doing not only on the football field but here at training and doing video and things like that."
Already promoted to a leadership role in the pre-season, Bolton's responsibility to help Gavin Cooper and Jason Taumalolo as leaders in the forward pack became even more urgent when Scott suffered his knee injury in Round 2 against the Cowboys.
Not wanting to miss an opportunity, club legend and now high performance manager Paul Bowman put it on Bolton before the team had even left the field.
"Paul Bowman came over to me straight away – we hadn't actually left the field after that Broncos game – and he had a word to me about the fact that 'Thumper' (Scott) would be gone for the year and this is your forward pack to lead now," Bolton recalled.
"That stuck in my head and luckily I've had a lot of help along the way with Thumper being around and Jason playing the way he's been playing and obviously being a leader around this group of people."
In a season in which the team has had to rely on hard work and determination for victories probably more than at any other time in the club's history, Bolton's emergence as a leader has given the young forwards especially an example to follow in every single game they have played this season.
"It's more his willingness and desire to do all those little tough things in a game," Scott says.
"He knows what all those little 1 per cent plays mean to the team.
"That's the best part about him as a leader and as a player is that he knows the value of those things on the field and he does them himself and leads by example.
"In the effort areas – things like kick chase and kick pressure and tying in – all those little areas that don't come up on a stats sheet, they're the things we value as a side and he's definitely the best at our club at those things."
First published on NRl.com.