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Penrith Panthers prop James Tamou.

Penrith forward James Tamou admits it could have been him and not Trent Merrin leaving the club ahead of the 2019 season, adding it was the "rocket" he needed at this stage of his career.

Two years into a four-year deal with the Panthers, Tamou and his wife Brittany are happily settled with their four sons in Sydney's West with eldest son Brooklyn to start school this year.

Speculation that Penrith were looking to offload Tamou and Merrin emerged following Anthony Griffin's sacking in August.

It came as salary cap pressure began to take a toll before the club locked in Nathan Cleary to a contract extension.

Merrin joined Leeds on a four-year deal a week into the club's return to pre-season training in November.

"It was a rocket I needed, it's hard when it's one of your good mates and it's either him or you," Tamou told of Merrin's departure.

RCG admits hitting rock bottom in 2018

"We had a good chat about it. I found myself in that position a few years ago before I joined Penrith where you could go here or there. That's rugby league these days with coaches and players swapping. It just goes to show you can't be complacent.

"You've got young guys that compete on anything and just because I'm a senior player doesn't mean I'm safe at the club.

"I see that as a time to knuckle down, put in the work and lead these boys around the field."

We became the masters of comeback football ... good teams can't afford to play like that

James Tamou on the 2018 Panthers

The expectation on Tamou has been around since he moved to Penrith as an incumbent NSW representative and former Australian international.

A self-confessed quiet first season at the club in 2017 added pressure on the prop, who lost his spot in Laurie Daley's final Origin campaign.

Tamou spent 17 games coming off the bench last year with Griffin and interim coach Cameron Ciraldo trying to find a way to rectify the side's slow starts in games.

"My 2017 season had its ups and downs and 2018 got a bit better," Tamou said.

"I come off the bench and thought I found some form. I knew some games were good but I would still walk off the field always thinking in my head everything can be better.

"As aside our luck just ran out. We became the masters of comeback football but the good teams can't afford to play like that.

Panthers prop James Tamou.
Panthers prop James Tamou. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

"It's no secret we knew what was the problem, our starts to games were non-existent. But a positive is we were never dead, we knew we could claw our way back and did right until the end."

Tamou will reunite with former NSW front row teammate Tim Grant as the club's most experienced forwards in 2019.

The 30-year-old is set to put his hand up for New Zealand Māori selection against the Indigenous All Stars at AAMI Park on February 15.

"I've been in touch with them and they know I'm very interested in playing," Tamou said.

"I was looking at a mock team and thought I might not even get a run here. I was a part of it before the start of my NRL career. Hopefully, we can get these games and show what Māori rugby league is all about."

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