North Queensland skipper Jason Taumalolo credits an injury-free season with a return to his rampaging best.
The Cowboys have begun the season with six wins from their opening nine games and Taumalolo has been at the forefront of their revival under coach Todd Payten.
Rumours of a rift between Payten and Taumalolo didn’t subside last season, with the Tongan lock breaking his hand twice and unable to recapture his best form when the Cowboys limped to 15th spot on the ladder.
With a new season and tweaks to the six-again rule, the 28-year-old looks to have rediscovered his mojo.
He currently tops the NRL stats charts for post-contact metres (655) and has the highest metrage of any forward in the competition (1,527).
“It obviously correlates with stringing a few games together,” Taumalolo said of his form.
“I’m trying to play my part and play good footy. Last year was a big year for me in terms of injury.
“This year I’ve looked after myself and I get to play the senior card every now and again (and get a rest).”
Taumalolo’s side take on the Wests Tigers in the final game of the NRL’s Magic Round on Sunday.
While Payten has made some shrewd recruiting decisions, notably by bringing in halfback Chad Townsend, he’s been able to also get the most out of his existing players.
Young winger Murray Taulagi has improved out of sight, Reuben Cotter is thriving in the middle and Scott Drinkwater is the x-factor at fullback keeping speed machine Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow out of the starting side.
Taumalolo credited the tough lessons learned in Payten’s first year for inspiring the upturn in form from some of the Cowboys’ youngsters.
“This year has been one of our best starts and I honestly can’t remember the last time we started this well,” he said.
“Everyone knows their job and is confident doing it.
“We have a lot of young players but with the experience from last year and the work in the preseason they look a lot more comfortable.
“They are surprising everyone outside the four walls here, it was just about giving them more time and experience.”
The Tigers welcome back Luciano Leilua from a hamstring injury as he prepares to face the Cowboys after agreeing to terms with North Queensland for next season.