Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo against the Roosters in Round 23.

Hurt behind Taumalolo's Cowboy commitment

He saw it happen to one of his closest friends and it made Jason Taumalolo determined not to become another forgotten name.

A kid whose star burned brightly enough to capture the imagination of the rugby league public only for it to quickly fade as a result of short cuts and the impetuousness of youth that tells you talent will be enough to not only get you there but keep you there.

The raw power Taumalolo exhibited when thrust into first grade at just 17 years of age made seasoned veterans gasp in wonder but it wasn't until his fifth season in the NRL that he established himself as a regular first-grader.

Former Cowboys coach Neil Henry often became frustrated by a player whose potential was evident but only for short bursts and then Taumalolo's world was turned upside down when good friend Wayne Ulugia was cut from the club in January 2014.

When Taumalolo first moved from Auckland to Towsnville at 14 years of age he lived with Ulugia and his parents and when the pair played in the NRL together for the first time in Round 26, 2013, Taumalolo described it as one of the highlights of his career.

Ulugia scored three tries that night and six in his first four games in the NRL but it is a tally he is unlikely to ever add to.

Sacked by the Cowboys early in 2014 for a string of off-field indiscretions, Ulugia joined Hull KR on a two-year deal but lasted just two months before he was dismissed for "repeated breaches of club discipline".

 


In 2015 he was playing park football in Townsville and continues to serve as a reminder to Taumalolo how quickly the privilege of playing in the NRL can be taken away.

"I haven't seen him of late but from what I've heard he's not too bad," Taumalolo told NRL.com. "I think he's got two kids now and put on 30 kilos at least.

"Obviously it's something that you don't want to see your mates do in the first place and it's hard seeing someone like him have a huge fall from grace.

"Going from playing first grade to being axed by the club and then having to go overseas and that so it's pretty hard when something like that happens to one of your mates.

"The way I think about it is that anything can happen to anyone. It can happen to the best of us and sometimes with stuff like that it's just a reminder of how privileged we are in the position we're in to play this sport and to be a part of something special, playing first grade for an amazing club."

Still just 23 years of age, Taumalolo is among the most damaging forwards currently in the game and has become an irresistible weapon at the Cowboys with the two stints he is generally given by coach Paul Green.

Generally playing between 50 and 60 minutes per game, Green holds Taumalolo back after his first stint until midway through the second half where he is able to tear through tiring defences to swing momentum the way of the Cowboys.

It's the type of impact rugby league lovers hoped he would have as we watched him develop but even Taumalolo admits there was no guarantee he was going to make good on his promise.

"You can have all the talent you have but if you don't work hard then obviously you won't go too far and that's something that I've learned off some of the best guys in the game," he said ahead of Saturday's clash with the Warriors.

"At every club there are talented players that people think can do great things for the club and I was obviously one of them.

"I wasn't working hard enough to take my game to the next level and that's something I found playing alongside guys like Matt Scott, Johnathan Thurston, Gavin Cooper and all the senior players that have been playing for a very long time."