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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Tamou privileged to go full-circle with Māori

Back in 2008, a then-uncapped young Rooster named James Tamou was thrust into his first senior representative experience with the New Zealand Māori as they took on an Indigenous Dreamtime side as a curtain-raiser to the 2008 World Cup.
Four years later, the then-23-year-old Cowboy and former Junior Kiwi – who was born in Palmerston North but grew up in Bondi – caused a storm in the country of his birth when he made the agonising decision to elect to represent NSW and Australia, just a year after appearing in a senior New Zealand train-on squad.
Flash forward to 2019 and there a no regrets for Tamou, whose bulging trophy cabinet includes not just a 2015 premiership ring but a 2014 Origin triumph and 2013 World Cup victory.
But the chance to represent his heritage once again for the 2019 Māori All Stars in what he acknowledges may be his last senior representative game was something truly special.
"To go back where it started is pretty special and to be able to represent my family who were able to come down and watch, that made it extra special," Tamou told at the conclusion of a sapping Panthers training session in melting western Sydney midday heat this week.
"For myself, my journey, that's where it all started back in 2008 – before I even played first grade I played for the Māori.
"My journey went around and I'm so happy I got the opportunity for it come back there. Being at a part in my career where I'm definitely in the back half, it's special for myself to be able to represent my family and culture again. Whether it be my last rep game or what not, I'm just happy I got that opportunity."
Tamou earned a second Māori jersey in 2010; again it was a warm-up game, this time against England ahead of a Four Nations tournament. Finally in 2019, after years of looking on wistfully at the Indigenous All Stars v NRL All Stars fixture, a Māori team was the main attraction alongside the Indigenous team.
"Having played in 2008 and 2010, I always brought it up – why don't they bring a Māori team in?" Tamou continued.
"There's obviously a few more high profile Māori boys getting around and I was sure they'd put their hand up. With the All Stars concept and being a standalone game, it's perfect – in the past we were always a curtain-raiser or something.
"It's good for the Indigenous sides from both countries to come together. Even through the week, it was all about the Indigenous and Māori coming together to play a good game of footy. There was nothing but respect and it showed.
"Hopefully with the success of it they can go again and fingers crossed I can represent in the next one as well."
On the club front, following Trent Merrin's off-season departure to Leeds, 30-year-old Tamou is very much the senior man among a very youthful crop of Penrith forwards heading into 2019. Even the other forward leaders, like Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Isaah Yeo, are a lot younger than Tamou.
"I don't mind [taking a bigger leadership role], it's gravitated towards myself naturally, especially with all the Polynesian boys," Tamou said.
"We've got a good young crop coming through. They're not shy, they get out there and they're happy to bash you! I can't wait to see them progress. I remember coming through, I was trying to do the exact same thing."
Like his teammates, Tamou is incredibly disappointed to have bowed out in the second week of the finals for what was a third straight year for the club. A habit of starting slowly and being forced to chase down large deficits was never going to be a recipe for long-term success.
"It was disappointing last year. The silver lining is the fire is still burning, the way we bowed out was disappointing because we let teams get in front then we were trying to play catch up," Tamou said.
"Yes we made it [to the finals] but our luck ran out. It was no secret that was our downfall and definitely something we want to work on this year."