Cowboys back-rower Jason Taumalolo has vowed not to let another finals opportunity at home slip through his fingers following his alma mater Kirwan High's GIO Schoolboy Cup win in Penrith on Wednesday.
Kirwan's first national title – and first for a regional Queensland school – bumped the Cowboys off the back page of the Townsville Bulletin on Thursday and rekindled memories for Taumalolo who moved to Townsville when he was 14 years of age.
Two years later Taumalolo was an Australian Schoolboy and playing in the Queensland final of the then Arrive Alive Cup at 1300SMILES Stadium but the locals were no match for a Keebra Park team captained by current Bronco Jordan Kahu.
Those days of schoolboy footy gave Taumalolo his first taste of the passion North Queensland people have for rugby league and makes him even more determined to put in a big performance against the Sharks on Saturday night.
"Do or die footy and to play a home game and have the home ground advantage is always the best, especially up here in North Queensland where it's a one-team town," Taumalolo told NRL.com.
"It can't get any bigger than this, playing finals footy and playing at home.
"It will be a great atmosphere out there; I'm looking forward to it.
"In the regular season game you slowly get over [any nerves] but you can't do the same for the finals with everything on the line.
"It gives me that extra bit of chill down my spine and gets me more pumped up to want to play my best footy."
Although he had a rocky start to his schooling at Kirwan High – Taumalolo was suspended after just one week – the Kiwi international has kept a close eye on the progress of the school's rugby league team on their way to the national title.
"I went and watched their last few games leading into the final this week," said the 22-year-old.
"Watching a bit of high-school footy brings me back to my high school days and when I used to play footy for Kirwan.
"I didn't know that rugby league was a subject in high school and when I found that out obviously I made that my first subject that I wanted to go to.
"I think Kirwan High is probably one of the top rugby league schools here in North Queensland so obviously to be part of that rugby league subject is a privilege.
"There was a bit of theory to it but I didn't pay too much attention to that. In footy class we did heaps of drills and heaps of conditioning in the heat; some good moments and some bad."
Despite enjoying 57 per cent possession against the Broncos last week the Cowboys were guilty of squandering some try-scoring chances that become few and far between the longer you progress in the finals series.
The sudden-death assignment facing them now is against a Cronulla team that has notched two wins against North Queensland already this season led by Taumalolo's NRL All Stars teammate from earlier this season, Paul Gallen.
"Probably the once off-field when we were at Dreamworld and that was probably the only time I spent time with him," Taumalolo recalled of his opposite on Saturday night.
"He seemed like a good fella off the field and he's an even better footy player.
"Obviously 'Gal' is their main go forward and we'll be looking forward to doing a job on him."