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'Am I over the hill?': Tamou reveals he considered retiring

From considering retirement as he questioned whether he was a spent force to leading his team to the grand final.

James Tamou has reflected on a remarkable two-year turnaround as he prepares to captain Penrith in Sunday's decider against the Storm. 

He's chasing a second title after saluting with the Cowboys in 2015.

The veteran prop, who turns 32 in December, is desperately hoping his last act as a Panther is doing a victory lap at ANZ Stadium before joining the Wests Tigers on a two-year deal.

It'd be a magical moment given Tamou, whose average running metres this season are his best in seven years, grappled with self-doubt in 2018 and began wondering if he should call it a day.

"I think that was when I started thinking, 'Wow, am I done? Am I over the hill?'," Tamou told NRL.com the day after beating South Sydney.

Then there were two

"I thought, 'Is this it? Am I going to hang the boots up?'

"But heading into Ivan [Cleary] coming along, there was a new pre-season and I thought, 'No, hang on - I'm not done here. 

"I want to give myself the best opportunity to make sure I want to go out on my own terms'. So I guess I just had to change my mentality on myself and change my game. 

"But there were periods in these years that I've had with Penrith that I've thought, 'Wow, I could be done here'.

"To be in this position, leading the team about to play in the grand final, I can't put it too much about my form. These boys have just been unreal. I've just been doing my job, really."

Cleary installed Tamou as captain last year and he's recaptured the form that once made him a NSW and Australian mainstay.

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But he was almost squeezed out of Penrith before the 2019 season and prepared his family for moving elsewhere, potentially overseas.

Instead, Trent Merrin packed his bags for England.

"I think it was out of me and him," Tamou said. "I think I picked up [on that] throughout the whole year [in 2018].

"We both did ... And talking to Gus [Gould] when Gus was there, I sort of had a few words with him. Mez obviously spoke to him as well, so we knew we were thereabouts.

"Rolling into pre-season, I got a phone call from Mez saying he got the tap on the shoulder.

"It wasn't a relief because he's one of my good mates and it's sad that it happened, but that was a thing in my mind - like the same thing could happen.

Cleary explains his reasoning for starting May

"I was thinking I needed to tell the wife, 'Get ready here, we might need to pack up and have to move on'. So that's how close I think it was."

Not since Steve Price with Canterbury in 2004 has an NRL skipper been part of a premiership-winning campaign before departing the next season.

Price, who went on to join the Warriors, didn't play in that year's decider due to injury but famously lifted the Provan-Summons Trophy alongside Andrew Ryan.

"It is quite unique now that you think about it," Tamou said.

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"See, I haven't spoken too much to the Tigers - the team I'm leaving to next year - and they probably want to leave me with the team.

"I haven't put too much thought into it, but it is a unique position. But we'll just hopefully put one foot in front of the other first, lift the trophy first and then think about the rest."

Tamou wasn't sure how he'd react if the Panthers are to become premiers.

"I don't want to add too much more emotion to it," he said.

"I think one of the biggest things - moving down here to Penrith and learning about the team and being the captain and knowing what the team means to the community, I'm going to miss that.

"And obviously the playing group is going to be a massive one.

"Hopefully we can have a few beer celebrations and a few beers and tears after the game.

"Even after the Souths game, I saw a poster of the Storm and the Panthers and I thought, 'Oh, wow, we're in the grand final', you know. So it was one of those things that didn't quite hit me."