North Queensland lock and co-captain Jason Taumalolo is in career best form and set to lead the club to title glory, says his 2015 premiership-winning teammate Ben Hannant.
Former prop Hannant was a member of the only Cowboys title-winning side and has watched Taumalolo return to his inspirational best this year under coach Todd Payten.
NRL statistics show Taumalolo ran for a season-high 270m in the 32-30 semi-final win over Cronulla, where he also scored his first try for the season.
It was one of the most crucial tries he has ever scored.
His barnstorming effort in the 80th minute took the game into golden point where Val Holmes won the game with a stunning 45-metre field goal, to secure the Cowboys their first ever home preliminary final in Townsville on Friday week.
Hannant, speaking at Main Event’s boxing press conference in Brisbane ahead of his showdown with Paul Gallen on Thursday night, caught up with Taumalolo recently and said he sensed an inner determination in his former teammate to inspire his team in the finals series.
“You could see that he is ready for this finals series,” Hannant said.
“It is not what he says but the way he carries himself. The younger players watch that and they can see the excitement and what he wants to achieve, and they are feeding off it.
“The work he did on the weekend with the try and the passing and the strong runs and carries … that is what we need from Jase to be successful in this finals series.
“He doesn’t say a word but the way he leads by his actions, the younger players will follow. Hopefully we get to see it again after they get a nice little rest this week.”
Taumalolo is averaging 155m per game this season, the same as he did in 2015 but not the 200m-plus totals he has notched in other seasons.
Hannant said it was all about quality, not quantity, and coach Payten had found a way to get the best impact out of the Tongan international.
“Sometimes in life you need a kick up the bum and sometimes you need a hug and I think Payten has done a fantastic job getting that balance right,” Hannant said.
“We are seeing that he is possibly the greatest lock the game has ever seen. The consistency and what he brings is just amazing.”
Hannant said Taumalolo was “definitely” a better player than he was in 2015.
“He is continually learning and more and more hungry,” Hannant said.
“Premierships are hard to get. He has got a taste. He has won one (grand final) and lost one (in 2017). He doesn’t want to lose another one.
“The game plan that all the teams have can win you a grand final. It is who sticks to it the best. If the senior players can lead them down the right path the Cowboys can lift the trophy at the end of the year.”