Homecoming North Queensland Cowboys veteran James Tamou has opened up on the final weeks of his time with the Wests Tigers, revealing that the brutal run of poor form to close the 2022 season pushed him toward a psychological breaking point.
Though he has a soft spot for the club and the people associated with it, Tamou revealed that the run of bad results and chaos around the club pushed him to the brink of retirement – before the Cowboys came calling.
“There were a lot of times (he considered retiring),” Tamou told the Daily Telegraph.
“The way we ended last year was tough. You have to look in the mirror and think ‘maybe that's it?'
“There was about a month (during the season) where I thought I've got to find something else to do and get a job.
“I've got a soft spot for the Tigers. It was a good group of boys and I got to know the fans who are passionate.
“I was trying to stay positive, but with how some of the score lines were playing out – there's only so much you can take.
“That was playing into me hanging up the boots until the phone rang (with an offer).”
Though he was on the precipice of retirement, Tamou wasn't short of career options before the Cowboys came calling – but he was prepared to wait for the right opportunity.
“There was offers and interest over there (Super League), but I've got four kids at home and it would have been tough to pack them up,” Tamou continued.
“It would have taken a few months to get settled over there, get through the second season then possibly come back.”
Tamou had resigned himself to a future of local park footy before the Cowboys, for whom Tamou made his debut in 2009 and won a premiership in 2015, came calling.
“My manager called up and said the Cowboys are interested – so I took it.
“It wasn't even about the logistics and numbers, I just said yes straight away because I knew I wanted to enjoy it and not have the weight of the team on my shoulders.
“I'm going to have to try hard to get into this team.”
The Cowboys of today are vastly different to Tamou's previous stint at the club (2009-16).
Though they've experienced some ups and downs in the years since he last wore the jersey, the club is currently in an excellent place under coach Todd Payten, making it to the 2022 preliminary finals despite being widely tipped to finish near the bottom in pre-season.
Given the current Cowboys squad is largely driven by talented youth, Tamou – who is now the oldest active player in the NRL – knows he'll have a different job this time around.
“My role has significantly decreased and I'm happy with that. I'm coming here to buy into what they've done.
“My role is to take that leadership role. Anything these guys need help with, they can pick my brain.
“I don't want to make it too much about me. I admire what the boys have done and their style of play. They never gave up.
“The young ones are still learning and I'm still hungry to learn. I'm not expecting to walk straight into the team. There are genuine superstars – look at the number of boys in the Kangaroos and Origin.
“I'll have to bide my time but I'll put my best foot forward and bring my best every day.”