He may have been one of the Blues’ best in game one but rookie New South Wales prop James Tamou expects a far better performance this Wednesday night after admitting he was crippled by nerves before his State of Origin debut.
Buoyed by his maiden Origin experience in Melbourne three weeks ago, Tamou told NRL.com that he struggled to deal with the intense build-up to the Origin opener, won 18-10 by Queensland, but insists he is now much better prepared to handle the pressure as NSW look to square the series at ANZ Stadium.
“I gained a fair bit of confidence from it,” the Kiwi-born prop said. “Even though the scoreboard didn’t go our way, personally I came off feeling a bit better that I got my first game out of the way because before the game my nerves were through the roof.
“I’ve never felt that nervous before a game – even before my debut at club level. I felt like I was going to spew at one point I was that nervous.
“I’m not usually that bad. At club level I get a little bit nervous thinking about the game but once I get out there for the warm-up I’m fine.
“But it’s just the waiting period and the anticipation, I guess. I was waiting around and thinking way too much. I knew it was draining me and taking a lot of energy. But taking that as an experience I sort of know to calm down a bit. As you know, preparation is everything.”
Despite his impressive form for the Cowboys this season and a Test debut for Australia just a little over a month ago, Tamou admitted to moments of self-doubt before his State of Origin debut.
“The whole experience was exciting but nerve-wracking at the same time – the excitement of being involved with such a large group of talented players but nervous about how I would perform and if I would let anyone down.
“I played it over and over again in my head in the lead-up to the game, just trying to get my head around it and yeah, playing against a champion side your nerves are always going to be through the roof.
“But you know, I knew what I had to do. I was picked in the team because of the way I play at club level and Ricky told me what I had to do, which was just to go forward for the team.
“I came out of the game with a bit of confidence and that can only be a good thing.
“Obviously the pressure is still there to perform because this is a must-win for us but it is a bit easier having experienced the first game. I sort of know what to expect. In the first game I was expecting the unexpected so it will be easier to prepare, I guess.”
As one of only two Queensland-based players in the NSW squad alongside Greg Bird, Tamou has also found himself in the unique situation of playing against a number of his North Queensland team-mates with Johnathan Thurston, Brent Tate and fellow Cowboys prop Matt Scott all key members of the Maroons side.
Asked whether his intimate knowledge of their games provided any sort of advantage – particularly in countering the brilliance of Thurston – Tamou replied: “That’s a tough one because no-one can really get into his brain. The way he plays, he can change his game to combat it, so it’s a tough one.
“I could sit there and say: ‘Hey, watch the show-and-go’ but the stuff I bring out, everyone knows it anyway because he does it week in, week out. That’s how talented he is. You know what he is going to do but it’s still hard to stop.
“To be honest, it was a bit weird having him on the other side but we did video during the week and I wrote down all my notes about him, so I knew what to expect.”
Tamou said he also gained plenty of confidence after chatting with Matt Scott when the pair returned to Cowboys training in the wake of game one.
“He said the best thing he could have said, which was: ‘Good game, you handled yourself really well during the week and you played well’,” the 23-year-old recalled.
"That makes me feel good coming from a player of such calibre.”
Tamou’s selection in the Australian and NSW sides has stirred plenty of controversy this season given that he spent the first 13 years of his life in New Zealand, represented New Zealand Maori in 2010 and has admitted that he grew up dreaming of playing for the Kiwis.
But the giant front-rower remains unrepentant about his decision to cross the Tasman and says he wants to make a lasting impact on the Origin arena.
“I remember watching [Origin] when I was younger and seeing all these great players and I knew that they were the best players in the world, so I recognised what Origin must be like,” he said. “At the same time I knew it was out of reach for myself.
“When I got that call from Ricky Stuart, that put it in my head: ‘Could this really be a possibility? Could I play Origin?’
“Some of the players that came out of State of Origin left such a legacy with their name… and hopefully having that to my name would just be unreal.”
Who are you rooming with this week?
“Todd Carney. It’s good, he’s always in bed actually, which suits me because I like to have a sleep-in. He’s not too noisy. Last time I was roomed with Robbie Farah and I don’t know why they changed, but it’s all good.”
Do you have a pre-match routine you stick to?
“Not really. The night before I always have pasta just to carbo-load and the day of the game I like to lie down and watch a movie – just do things that are not too strenuous. Going into the sheds before the game I just sit there and bide my time and think about the game.”
Who is the biggest joker in the NSW squad?
“For me, probably Trent Merrin. He’s always got the jokes. He thinks he is funny!”
Who have you learnt the most from since joining the Blues in camp for game one?
“Probably Greg Bird. Just to come in and see how much of a leader he is. It’s a different side to things, you can tell how much State of Origin means to him.”
What do you do in your down-time while in camp?
“Not a lot. While we’re in camp it’s pretty intense with training and promos so I just try and relax as much as possible, maybe have a coffee and watch a movie with the boys.”
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