Taumalolo back to his bruising best
The Cowboys' win over Manly was not only a birthday present for Jason Taumalolo, it contained other therapeutic properties as well.
The 113-kilo international for both New Zealand and Tonga never looks troubled by anything on a football field.
But the critics taking shots at his performances while the Cowboys were losing nine of their first 12 games didn't go unnoticed by Taumalolo.
"Obviously I try not to doubt myself," Taumalolo said after Thursday's spirit-raising 26-12 win over Manly.
"After three or four losses doubts do come in and you start questioning 'why I am still playing?' It was a bit of a rough period for myself.
"I've slowly got myself out of that slump. I'm just trying to better myself and better everyone around me too. If I can do that it helps the next person and they can do the same for the person beside them. As long as that culture is still happening surely we'll find a way to the eight."
Taumalolo, who turned 25 the day before taking on Manly, is showing that path in more practical terms too.
Playing all 80 minutes against the Sea Eagles, his figures of 25 runs for 234 metres, 11 tackle busts, 103 post-contact metres and a try were outstanding, although he's rattled off that kind of excellence many times before.
"It was my birthday so a birthday present was 80 minutes ... tried to find my lungs for at least 40 of them," he said.
"It was great. I haven't played 80 in a while but to play beside JT [Johnathan Thurston] all match was pretty refreshing. I didn't really expect to play 80 but with the lack of experience of players in the middle, it was needed."
Amen to that from the Cowboys faithful. Coach Paul Green lost four strike forwards in three days.
First Coen Hess and Gavin Cooper were called up for Queensland Origin duty, then Matt Scott was rubbed out for a week by the NRL judiciary on Tuesday for a shoulder charge, then Scott Bolton succumbed to a rib injury on Wednesday.
Up stepped Corey Jenson, Sam Hoare and Francis Molo, who barely have 50 NRL games between them, with Green handing 21-year-old Mackay Cutters back-rower Mitch Dunn his debut.
Dunn let go of a flick pass in his first hit-up, and an off-load in his second.
Taumalolo was certainly impressed and felt the Cowboys' season possibly turning from just one night's work.
"We've had a fair rough patch this year and I guess we are kind of desperate to get back into the eight," he said.
"A lot of that showed the club's character with everyone sticking together and believing in each other. All the younger guys coming in helps rejuvenate us too.
"We've got the team capable of getting us back in the eight. It's totally up to us."
There are 11 matches left for the Cowboys, starting with next Saturday's clash with last-placed Parramatta in Darwin.
"We've still got time. We can't take any games for granted," Taumalolo said.
Green put an exclamation mark on that when he was asked if the Sea Eagles win had given him hope his team could make the finals.
"Renewed hope?" he scoffed. "We haven't lost hope."