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'Silent contract' spurs Tamou to top of NRL props in key metric

A "silent contract" has not only kept James Tamou's career alive, but revived it to the point he is producing his best footy since challenging for the title of NRL's top prop almost a decade ago.

Tamou's resurgence has mirrored that of the young Panthers side he will lead against the Roosters on Friday night.

It has also landed him a two-year Wests Tigers contract for next season, with the club's recruitment analytics identifying Tamou as the game's most efficient prop when it comes to metres per minute in 2020.

Tamou's average of 146.6 metres in each Panthers outing ranks him behind teammate James Fisher-Harris (182.9m), Friday's foe Siosiua Taukeiaho (165.9m) and several rival front-rowers across the game.

But they're all doing so from more game time.

With an average of 43 minutes a game, Tamou's 3.43 metres a minute is the best of the big men this season, a key factor in the Tigers pursuing him.

Panthers v Roosters - Qualifying final

His post-contact metres (57.7 a game) and running numbers are both the best Tamou has produced since 2012/13, when he was a regular in the Australian Test side and ranked behind only then-Cowboys teammate Matt Scott among the game's best props.

It's a far cry from 2019, when Penrith's slide had the club paying for Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Waqa Blake and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to move on.

Tamou's middling form and $700,000-plus salary had him being sized up for a similar shift by those outside Panthers HQ, but the 32-year-old says no such conversation was had with Ivan Cleary or Penrith hierarchy.

Instead it was his own "silent contract" to keep pace with younger teammates and keep his place in a rising pack that drove Tamou's turnaround.

"Looking back at that year, that pain and suffering still burns strong," Tamou said.

"I guess that's the enthusiasm that's [been] brought into this year for myself anyway.

"I wanted to show that I wasn't passed it and still had my best footy ahead of me.

"If I knew something wasn't right I wouldn't have stuck around with the club.

"It was a silent contract with myself that I wanted to be the best.

"So I needed to put in a big pre-season and I wanted to lead this young side and put my best foot forward.

The final moments of the Roosters-Panthers 2014 QF

"There wasn't any big discussion, I just knew within myself that I had to improve to still be in this team with such a good young forward group.

"I had to use everything that I had learned from the year before and take it into this year. As much as it hurt last year, I wouldn't change a thing."

Tamou's pre-season impressed Cleary enough for him to keep him as captain.

His continued standard bearing throughout the COVID-19 hiatus validated the coach's call.

And while Tamou doesn't win fitness tests or break tin-shifting records in the gym, his 24/7 commitment is plain for all at Penrith to see, according to head of performance Hayden Knowles.

The Panthers are ready to chase history

Tamou's payoff is also apparently the envy of his younger teammates in his 13th year of first grade.

"The evidence doesn't lie when he takes his shirt off," Knowles laughs.

"Jimmy's just ripped, and his durability, toughness and discipline is just outstanding.

"The numbers that impress me are that he didn't miss a game last year, and has played every game this year until we rested him for one.

"In the old days you'd see a front-rower carrying a few kilos. Here at Penrith he's led their training, so now if you had a photoshoot with our middle forwards, they're all ripped and Jimmy's the most ripped of them all.

"He doesn't have a blowout at all. Every day weighing in, he's 110 kilos.

"There's no binge weekend where he eats shit, it's 110 every single day.

"And every week he's knocking on your door asking 'how can I get better?'

"For a while there it was a battle to get him to ease up his training, to show him he doesn't need to rip in every single day. The young blokes just can't help but follow that example."