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Cowboys prop James Tamou is preparing to lock horns with Sonny Bill Williams on Saturday night

North Queensland prop James Tamou provided a reminder of just how long ago it was that Sonny Bill Williams made his first-grade debut when he mentioned having idolised SBW growing up.

Tamou, the NSW and Australian prop, will get the chance to play against Williams for the first time when the Cowboys meet Sydney Roosters at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday night.

Born in December, 1988, Tamou is only three years and four months younger than Williams, who was born in August, 1985.

But SBW made his first-grade debut for Canterbury as an 18-year-old in March, 2004, when Tamou was just 15, so Tamou, who, like Williams, was born in New Zealand, isn’t exaggerating when he says Williams was one of his schoolboy heroes.

“I remember growing up and going to school and he (Williams) was a bit of an idol,” Tamou said. “So we know it will be a tough match-up and that we’ve got to be on our toes to stop him. It’s going to be a good test for us.”

Asked if there was the potential for him to be in awe of Williams going into a game like this, Tamou replied: “Yeah, it is a bit. I still remember some of the hits he put on (former Penrith and Brisbane prop) Joel Clinton and guys like that, back in those days.

“So I’m sort of glad the shoulder charge rule has been put in place! But he’s not only a good defender, he’s got good attack and he can offload and we’ve just got to be aware of that.”

The shoulder charge was a big part of SBW’s weapon collection, but he has never remotely been a one-dimensional player and the outlawing of that tackle hasn’t made him any less threatening.

In fact, most experts believe Williams is an even better player now than when he left the game for rugby union midway through the 2008 season.

Williams, at 27, would be in his 10th season of first grade had he remained in rugby league throughout his career.

He has been a major threat for the Roosters this season and North Queensland coach Neil Henry, like Tamou, is well aware of how dangerous SBW is to the home side’s chances of winning this game.

“He’s a handful,” Henry said. “And he’s got a nice set of hands. He can offload the ball and throw a nice pass. He’s playing some good footy.”

The Roosters are in second place on the competition table, with seven wins and two losses. The Cowboys are 10th, with four wins and five losses.

Tamou has played in all nine games this season, and has made a big impact in terms of metres gained.

He has played for an average of 54.4 minutes per game and made an average of 142.8 metres. His best match was 203 metres and only once has he finished a game with less than 100 metres. Even then he was very close, with 97.

But the 194cm and 113kg Tamou knows that against a Roosters team that is clearly the best defensive outfit in the competition every metre gained is going to have to be hard-earned.

The Roosters have conceded just 86 points this season, at a miserly rate of just 9.5 per game.

“It’s going to be a tough one,” Tamou said. “They are definitely a heavyweight in the competition, and we need to show that we want to be a part of the top teams, especially coming off a hard loss against the Rabbitohs last week.”

Tamou said he was disappointed Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves wouldn’t be playing against the Cowboys after being sent off and suspended for five matches for a high tackle on Manly forward George Rose in last Monday’s 16-4 win to the Roosters.

“It’s always exciting going up against JWH,” he said. “It will hopefully make us go better, knowing he’s not on the field, but in saying that they’ve got a good team roster so they will always bring in another good player.”

Tamou said he also had plenty of time for the other regular starting prop at the Roosters – Martin Kennedy.

“He’s going really good,” Tamou said. “He’s a big boy and tough to handle, so we’re going to have to be on our ‘A’ game to stop him from getting them going forward.”

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