Kiwi threats bounce off Kangaroo James Tamou

Last updated 11:22 18/05/2012
James Tamou
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TRUE BLUE: James Tamou chose NSW and Australia over the Kiwis.

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James Tamou is so tough he ignored physical threats from New Zealand fans to play for Australia last month.

But tell him of comparisons with Arthur Beetson and the Blues prop has to choke back the tears.

It is unlikely that Beetson could have foreseen a Kiwi playing for NSW when he put the concept on the map by punching Parramatta teammate Mick Cronin in the inaugural game in 1980, but the man dubbed the godfather of State of Origin saw something special in Tamou.

In fact, the 23-year-old North Queensland star doubts he would even be playing in the NRL if it wasn't for the late great he affectionately calls ''Big Artie''.

While Queensland players - headed by Cowboys teammate Johnathan Thurston - will use the memory of Beetson, who died in December, to inspire them in their quest for a seventh consecutive series win, Tamou will also be playing to honour his mentor.

''I actually had a lot to do with Arthur Beetson. He sort of took me under his wing,'' Tamou said.

''When you bring up his name, it is just hard to speak about it. Big Artie is a legend, everyone knows his name and he was a well-respected man all around Australia.''

Tamou, who was 13 when his parents Dave and Pippa relocated the family to Australia, was recruited by Sydney Roosters after Beetson saw him playing for Paddington Tigers and Matraville High.

He was the Roosters under-16s player of the year but joined North Queensland and made his NRL debut in 2009.

In the past 12 months Tamou has begun to fulfil the potential Beetson saw in him and, according to statistics supplied by Sportsdata, he is arguably the NRL's form front-rower this season.

So dominant has Tamou been in a Cowboys team missing Kangaroos and Queensland prop Matt Scott for most of the season that some in the NSW camp say he reminds them of Beetson.

''I don't know what to say,'' Tamou said.

''I honestly don't know if I would be here if it wasn't for Big Artie. It is just tough, tough, tough when people bring up his name but Big Artie, he definitely saw things in me that no one else did.''

New Zealand officials have also noted Tamou's talent and last year he was named in the Kiwis' train-on squad for the Four Nations tournament.

Despite initially rejecting an approach by NSW coach Ricky Stuart in favour of playing for his country of birth, Tamou said watching the Blues play in last season's Origin series convinced him to change loyalties.

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It was a decision that led to much controversy when he was chosen for Australia in the Anzac Test at Eden Park, and Tamou revealed just how hostile a reception he received from some Kiwi fans in Auckland.

''As exciting as it was, I just couldn't relax too much,'' he said.

''It's a funny story now but one time I was just going out to get something to eat and some guys started yelling at me so I just turned around and went back to the hotel. I didn't know what they were going to do. They were yelling, 'You better watch your back' and stuff like that, so I just turned around and sprinted to the hotel. The build-up was pretty tense but going through that has prepared me for Origin.''

Tamou said he didn't support either NSW or Queensland while growing up but always watched Origin on television with his family for the ''action, the footy and the fights''.

But he took a closer interest in the Blues' performance last year after being contacted by Stuart.

''I was very anxious watching it last year and thinking that could have been me, so as soon as I got that second phone call [this year] I knew [what I] wanted to do and that was play State of Origin''.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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