How James Tamou rediscovered his mojo
Just breathe, James. Cliffy said so.
North Queensland bookend James Tamou shouldn’t be scared of anything. He cuts one of league's most imposing figures at 195cm and 114kg, yet he battles a demon week in, week out – himself.
Tamou is an over-thinker and has been since the days of bulldozing those half his size in junior footy.
"I've been working on that," Tamou said earlier in the week – gesturing to his hand, holding it out and trying to keep it steady.
"I'm probably one of the first ones, if we do something wrong on the field, I'm putting my head down and just thinking (negatively)."
It has gotten to the point where a five-minute period at the start of a game can determine the difference between a 150-metre, 30-tackle performance or becoming a complete ghost out in the middle.
'Cliffy' is Brisbane-based sports psychologist Cliff Mallett, who dropped into Cowboys HQ in the week leading up to their clash with the Melbourne Storm.
Mallet has a longstanding association with Cowboys coach Paul Green – who has noted a distinct lack of assurance in his side from Round 1 – and spent time with the playing group on physical relaxation techniques.
"I guess he's a bit of a guru for us, Cliff Mallett – Cliffy," Tamou said.
"In past games we've seen (in review) that we were on the front foot and going well, then after one error we drop our heads, (the opposition) score.
"It was basically just the hour with Cliff, he spoke about (breathing and relaxing) and he said the great players do it, for example he said LeBron James does it before a free throw. It is definitely something I take on board if LeBron James does it.
"I think it kind of works."
And that's where the classic block-stacking game Jenga comes in.
"(Mallett taught) us just to breathe, relax and get that out of your head and focus on the next job.
"That's how Jenga was brought into it. It's the same thing (as a football game); there is competition, obviously Jenga is the blocks, so you've got to try pull them out and obviously keep building up.
"You can't shake and can't worry about things. It was just (about) having to breathe, relax and just think about your next job."
In a lot of ways the simple children's game represents a perfect metaphor for this Cowboys team. Their legacy will only grow if they learn to manage the flaws beneath, otherwise it will all come crashing down.
So there they were; a group of professional footballers sitting around playing a children's game in preparation for the bright lights of Monday night football.
Coincidence or not, it was Johnathan Thurston owning the Jenga table before he seized the moment in golden point against the Storm.
"I actually think (the Jenga king) was Johnno. He goes pretty well and he has got some good chat. He abuses you while you're playing so that works for him," Tamou recalled of the game session.
"He is always pretty calm."
Tamou has himself worked keeping calm and managing expectations, deliberately keeping away from social media after copping unwarranted criticism during his stint with the NSW Origin squad.
"I will judge myself on my game and if I have a bad game I need to fix it. I can't keep reading stuff and walking around moping about this and that so I sort of keep all that to myself," he said
Tamou is gradually becoming more at ease with his place in the game after the troublesome neck injury, but has conceded that his playing days will never be the same.
"After games I've noticed that I pull up a bit sore and I'm still a bit stiff in the neck and so that just takes some rehabbing and a lot of recovery work.
"It will be like that for the rest of my career."