James Tamou in action for the Cowboys during the Auckland Nines. Photo: photosport.co.nz Credit: photosport.co.nz Copyright: photosport.co.nz
As we count down to season 2014, NRL.com identifies 30 players who will be crucial to their team's fortunes this year. From new faces to rising stars to proven performers who will need to lift this season, these are our 'MVPs' for 2014.
They're the odd couple of the NRL front-rowers club.
One likes heading bush; the other has a collection of Snapback caps and basketball singlets.
One has become the premier front-rower in the game with very little fanfare while the other can't really go anywhere without attracting attention.
One prefers to run over the top of defenders while the other is not afraid of some fancy footwork to breach the defensive wall.
The good news for James Tamou is that if he wants to truly establish himself as a consistent front-row forward of the highest order in the NRL he need only look to his North Queensland and Australia teammate, Matt Scott, for inspiration.
For the second year in succession Tamou was unable to get through a season without being the centre of controversy, this time a high-range drink driving offence that saw him suspended for the second State of Origin clash and placing his immediate future in the game in doubt.
But even though he pledged to atone for his mistake and was critical of his own form, can you really call a season in which you finish as one of the starting front-rowers in a dominant Kangaroos World Cup Final victory less than a success?
That's the exciting prospect for Cowboys, Blues and Kangaroos fans, that at 25 years of age Tamou's best years are still ahead of him and he has plenty of time to wrest back the mantle of the most athletic and damaging front-rower in the game from Sharks enforcer Andrew Fifita.
Fifita topped all players with 3,949 run metres in 2013 while Tamou ranked 10th with 3,119. Scott bettered Tamou for both line breaks (1-0) and offloads (13-9), areas of his game that you would normally expect Tamou to excel in.
It was somewhat endemic of the majority of the Cowboys' season: their best players just weren't quite at their very best for extended periods of time.
The Cowboys were first in average hit-ups per game and second for average run metres per game but were unable to convert that territorial advantage into victories until six weeks before the start of the finals series.
It's the area in which Tamou has the most potential to lift his team; his awkward, gangly running style perfectly suited to disrupting the opposition defence and generating second-phase play for an attacking genius such as Johnathan Thurston.
It's been a meteoric rise for the New Zealand-born, Sydney-raised Tamou and the lessons learnt the hard way last year may define the player he becomes over the next five years.
Despite the difficulties he faced during the middle of the year, the birth of his first child Brooklyn Knox in August, a semi-final appearance with the Cowboys and World Cup triumph all helped to turn 2013 into a year to savour rather than one he was looking to forget.
"It was year that I wanted to end. I didn't feel my form was up to where it should have been then, of course, the off-field dramas," Tamou told the Townsville Bulletin prior to the World Cup.
"I remember just looking at that time and thinking, 'Gee, I wish this could end and I wish I could start all over again'.
"Now everything's changed for the better. I've got a kid, a house and now I've got a World Cup to look forward to, which is exciting."
When the Cowboys needed inspiration in their 2012 semi-final against the Sea Eagles it was Tamou who dragged them back into the contest with a solo try prior to half-time that brought them back to within six points.
No player can deliver that type of effort every single week across an arduous NRL season but as long as James Tamou looks as though he could deliver something special at any given moment, the Cowboys will be a much more potent outfit.
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