Rugby League

Melbourne Storm signing Tom Learoyd-Lahrs extends career after call from coach Craig Bellamy

It's the phone call that breathed life into Tom Learoyd-Lahrs' flagging NRL career.

Prospects looked bleak late in the season for the Canberra Raiders front-rower, who was out of contract and staring into the oblivion of early retirement.

New chance: Tom Learoyd-Lahrs has joined the Storm.
New chance: Tom Learoyd-Lahrs has joined the Storm.  Photo: Josh Robenstone

Then Learoyd-Lahrs, 29, the father of three young children, reached for his phone and saw Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy was calling.

He did everything in his power to sound dispassionate but at that moment the former Australian and NSW state of origin player knew he would be re-united with his old coach in Melbourne.

"My manager was working pretty hard but then Craig rang me personally," Learoyd-Lahrs said.

"Being a mate and as I have had him as a coach since I was a kid when he was assistant to Wayne Bennett at the Brisbane Broncos, we had a pretty good relationship there.

"He felt that he could ring me and talk to me personally, so I was very grateful that he showed me that level of respect and willing to talk to me personally - it was the first time I've had that sort of negotiation.

"I found that really refreshing. It was all honest, he let me know where I was at and what was available. I didn't try and make it too obvious at the time, but I pretty much made my decision there and then."

With injuries keeping his time in Canberra to 109 games in nine years, word around the competition was that as professional as the forward was, his body was too broken down to continue.

Despite being in the reserve grades with the Raiders and struggling to stay on the park, Learoyd-Lahrs said Bellamy's call turned his year around.

"[It was a] massive boost," he said. "Regardless of whether you want to admit it, but at some stage every footballer doubts himself and that is the hardest thing when you have been at the top level then are languishing in the lower grades.

"Those sort of things really do help - they speak volumes for the place [Melbourne Storm] and how they do business. Just the boost that call gave me was huge and I feel like I'm at a lot better place mentally now and I'm working at the physical side of things."

The physical side of Learoyd-Lahrs' game has hurt his prospects terribly in past seasons, with an ankle injury at the start of the 2014 season and then a dislocated knee cap mid-campaign prevented him from playing a senior game for the season.

He called 2014 a "wasted season" and knew 2015 would decide whether he would continue to play in the NRL or need to move on to the next stage of his life.

"It was the hardest season I've ever had to face," he said. "Physically every year is taxing, but mentally was the battle for me - without going into it too much it felt like it was a year wasted. Especially when you are 29 years old and a front-rower - every season is crucial.

"For me to endure that and still be here today with an opportunity in front of me is something I'm very grateful for."

Learoyd-Lahrs admitted his unhappy time on the field followed him home to his family.

"I've got three young children too and they ride that roller-coaster with you whether it is good or bad," he said. "I don't plan to ever put them through that again.

"It was not something I was proud of, but it took its toll on me. It's hard to disguise it at all times and the big thing about [next] year is I want to enjoy my footy and, god permitting, I stay fit and healthy.

"I'm hoping the systems they have in place here at the Storm work for me like they have worked well for other guys in my situation as an ageing front-rower."

With his wife and three children moving to Melbourne once the school year finishes, Learoyd-Lahrs wants to extend his stay in Melbourne beyond one season and with veteran forwards Ryan Hoffman and Bryan Norrie not in the side, there is a role for him if he is fit enough.

"I'm not looking to hang up [my boots] up any time soon," he said. "If I can stay fit and healthy, then hopefully I can extend it to a second year and even a third year at the Storm."

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