He has a Maori tribal design inked on his left bicep but James Tamou is unmistakably a blue blood after rating NSW's series-squaring State of Origin triumph as a bigger thrill than test football for his adopted nation.
The Palmerston North-born prop took another step towards becoming a bona fide New South Welshman when he contributed to the Blues 16-12 victory over Queensland at ANZ Stadium last night, an occasion when he truly felt at home.
Tamou, who left New Zealand for Sydney as a 13-year-old, controversially chose to represent the Kangaroos in April's Anzac Test at Eden Park after failing to make the Kiwis' Four Nations squad last year.
The 114kg North Queensland front rower's selection for the Australia was considered a conduit for Tamou to play in the iconic interstate series and after experiencing success at the second attempt he admitted he gained more satisfaction representing the Blues.
"When I was playing the test match, I thought, 'jeez, it can't get any better than this', but playing two Origins definitely blows it out of the water for me, personally," said Tamou as he reflected on performing before almost 84,000 people at the home of the Sydney Olympics.
"The atmosphere, the calibre of players and the lead-up was just unreal.
"Running out and seeing the crowd sort of did it for me."
Tamou made an impressive Origin debut in Melbourne last month to vindicate his selection and produced another strong performance before familiar faces.
"It was a big buzz for me, being at home with family watching and friends. I have all my immediate family over here in Sydney and they all came to watch me, which was really good."
Debutant Tim Grant laid down a marker for the Blues props with the first hit-up of the match when he knocked the legendary Petero Civoniceva backwards.
Tamou could not match that focal point but still carried the ball 86-metres and made 34 tackles during his 41 minutes of game time.
While Grant was lauded for his first touch in Origin football, Tamou took pride in the Blues ferocious defence.
Anxious as NSW faced a do-or-die scenario, Tamou's anxiety levels lowered when Queenslanders started hitting the turf.
"I was nervous. I knew it was a must win and I knew I had to do whatever it takes.
"There was a time there on the field, we defended four sets on our line and I was blowing heavy, and I knew I couldn't give up," he said.
"I think that was a moment, personally, where I knew I could fight through the barrier.
"We knew our strength was our defence. A couple times we kicked the ball down their end and they only made 20 metres."
During a frantic final five minutes Tamou was poised on the sideline, not as close to the actions as he'd have liked.
"The boys were busting to make every tackle and doing everything they could. I really wanted to get on and help them out," Tamou said after waiting in vain for Ricky Stuart to pick him as one last interchange.
Instead he will have to wait until the decider at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium on July 4, an opportunity for the new generation of Blues big boppers to ruin Civoniceva's farewell to Origin.
- © Fairfax NZ News