Tamou goes 'home' to celebrate 200th game

James Tamou started doing the numbers a few weeks back.

The Penrith Panthers prop calculated he would be playing his 200th NRL game against his former club, the North Queensland Cowboys.

And on Thursday night he is returning to the place he called home for eight years.

"Up in Townsville, 200 games, it's funny how things work out like that," Tamou told NRL.com.

"It's the place where it all sort of started for me. It's a milestone I'm very proud of."

The Panthers will be underdogs in his milestone match – Nathan Cleary's MCL strain, which will keep him out for two months, follows winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak's broken jaw (six weeks) and Sam McKendry's season-ending ACL tear.

"They are pretty tough injuries as they’re in prime positions," Tamou said.

"We just have to come together. Obviously, you put good players in there but they are marquee players (gone) so they are big losses.

"We’ve just got to go through our review, take out the positives, acknowledge Nath (Cleary) won’t be around us for a bit, but keep our heads up, because all teams get injuries."

One bright spot is James Maloney can slot straight into goal-kicking duties.

It is not the first time Tamou has had to face his former teammates at the Cowboys.

Penrith Panthers prop James Tamou.
Penrith Panthers prop James Tamou. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

In round 16 last year, Penrith lost a close one 14-12 and seven weeks later enjoyed a 24-16 win.

"They are pretty good friends of mine so there’s not too much sledging. It’s pretty respectful really," Tamou said.

"But them coming off a loss (to Melbourne) is not good for us. They’ll be back at home, ready to play, harder for us."

Still, Tamou will forgive himself for feeling a tad sentimental as he glances around 1300SMILES Stadium in the warm-up.

"I have such good memories. The calibre of the players up there. I played with Johnathan Thurston, Matty Bowen, Matt Scott and I remember so fondly blokes like Luke O’Donnell, Carl Webb going back further," he said.

"Especially someone like Johnathan. When my kids get a bit older I can say ‘I played with him. Yes, I played with JT’. We might both be bent over and buckled, but his name is going to be around for a lot longer than mine."

Tamou turns 30 at the end of the season but he is planning on playing for a while yet. He still has two years to run on his four-year deal taking him through to the end of 2020.

And he wants all that time to keep observing the rising brigade of quality Panthers forwards.

"It’s scary how young, how good, how talented they are," said the man who has played 12 Tests for Australia and 14 Origins for NSW. 

"Viliame Kikau, or ‘Big Kicker’ as I like to call him, as started the year off so well. I remember him up at the Cowboys in the under-20s when he showed what he was made of. As the season moves through you’ll see what I mean," Tamou said of the young Fiji international.

"Corey Harawira-Naera, James Fisher-Harris who is coming into his own, and Reagan Campbell-Gillard who just gets better and better. They are all incredible."

So now all that's left is fixing up the starts to games. The opening three games this season Penrith have found themselves down 14-0. They came back to win against Parramatta and South Sydney but it was a bridge too far against Canterbury-Bankstown, eventually beaten 20-18 at Allianz Stadium last Friday night.

"I can’t actually tell you why that keeps happening," Tamou said.

"It is a weird one and someone looking in from outside might think it’s part of our game plan. We’ve obviously got a label now of being slow starters… we need to fix that."