The biggest foe James Tamou has ever faced awaits the giant Kangaroos forward in Friday night’s trans-Tasman Test in Brisbane – himself.
Tamou admits it will be daunting lining up against a mammoth New Zealand pack at Suncorp Stadium with Australia’s world No.1 ranking on the line.
But slamming into the Kiwi giants is small fry compared to the internal battle Tamou faces every time he has taken the field since off-season neck surgery.
The North Queensland enforcer appeared to cap a remarkable comeback by earning a Test bench nod just five months after wondering when he would crack the Cowboys team again.
However, Kiwi-born Tamou admitted he still had not shaken off the mental demons that have plagued him since major surgery in December to ease a nerve problem in his neck.
“Earlier this year it was physical but still to this day it is mental (challenge),” Tamou said.
“Going into a game, so much goes through my mind with each hit-up and each tackle.
“With each game I need to get a hit-up early to get a feel for the game and know I will be right.”
Still, Tamou could appreciate how far he had come since going under the knife.
Tamou said a fortnight before the NRL season kick-off he couldn’t even lift weights.
Yet somehow he made the Cowboys’ round one team off the bench.
He hasn’t looked back since – and it has nothing to do with his stiff neck.
“I am shocked and surprised, very fortunate to be here,” said Tamou of his Kangaroos call-up.
“I was struggling at the start of the year.
“I thought I was no hope of playing rep footy, no hope of getting anywhere.
“I actually thought I would struggle to make the Cowboys side.
“There is still a bit of soreness and stiffness in the neck after each game but that is normal, I have come to terms with that.
“To be here is huge for me personally and professionally.”
Despite the hurdles he had cleared, the 113kg Tamou still sounded fazed by his latest challenge – a Kiwi pack that usually revelled in reminding him of his heritage.
“They have some big boys and are a very mobile pack – it is pretty daunting,” the 10-Test prop said.