Just a few weeks ago, James Tamou was still weighing up his options on whether he wanted to pull the pin on his 305-game career or look to head overseas and extend it for a little while longer in the UK Super League.
But then, his manager called with an offer from the NRL club where he made his debut and claimed the 2015 premiership. As soon as he knew of North Queensland’s interest, it was a simple decision for Tamou.
“When my player manager called about the Cowboys…he didn’t even mention numbers or anything like that, I just went ‘Yep,’” he said.
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“I was excited that he called, but as soon as I hung the phone up, I went, ‘Wow, I’ve got to start training’.
“Time went by, and that fire was still in the belly and the hunger grew and this was only a few weeks ago.”
The prop admitted that following the disastrous season he endured at the Wests Tigers, where the club picked up the first wooden spoon in their history, he was unsure if he wanted to extend his career.
“There were strong rumours- both hanging the boots up and going overseas,” he said.
But now he’s back where it all began in Townsville, Tamou is excited to go around again and reacquaint himself with the fan base who used to adore him.
“Driving around, I didn’t realise how much I missed the place,” he said.
“I spent eight years up here previously, so it was home. It’s easy to see why it was home.
“I definitely missed the place and I still have a lot of family and friends up here, so we’ll call it home again.
“To this day, I still remember running out in front of these fans and things like that. They loved you. As long as you had a go, they loved you so I still remember them, and it will be pretty exciting to run out in the new stadium.”
However, the veteran was under no illusions that he was in for an easy ride under Todd Payten.
The Dally M Coach of the Year has become infamous already for his tough approach to pre-season and Tamou received a taste of it during his introduction back into the Cowboys’ fold.
“I flew in Friday night and then my first day was Saturday and the first thing you feel is the heat,” he said.
“I think I was putting my boots on and I started sweating.
“Toddy said, ‘Up the hill you go’ and I’m at that point where I’ve got to go ‘Yes, Sir’ because I’m buying into what this group has done.”
North Queensland completed a remarkable turnaround last season, going from many people’s pick for the wooden spoon to being within one match of the grand final.
Tamou admitted he’s kept tabs on the club ever since his departure and was blown away by their meteoric rise in 2022.
“I kept an eye on the Cowboys a lot. I’ve always had a soft spot for them,” he said.
“I admired their style of play. I think after Origin there, I was turning to some of the boys down south and was saying Reuben Cotter is my new favourite player.
“What these boys have done is nothing short of amazing…I’m here to buy into what they’ve done and earn their respect.
“Yeah, I’ve played so many games, but you’ve still got to come in and buy into a culture. You can’t expect anything.”