How Ja­son gets into beast mode

Sunday News - - NRL GRAND FINAL 2017 LEAGUE - ADAM PENGILLY

HE’S rugby league’s mod­ern-day pro­to­type who will smash all types of records be­fore his NRL ca­reer is over, but Ja­son Tau­malolo’s game-day diet is fed by a PlayS­ta­tion and a pil­low. On re­peat.

It’s not an un­com­mon sce­nario for the cur­rent era’s noc­tur­nal NRL stars, some of whom like Tau­malolo barely know what it’s like to play any time other than un­der flood­lights.

But ever won­dered what goes through the mind of the man set to wreak havoc on the NRL for the next decade?

Mostly, the Cow­boys beast’s match-day prepa­ra­tion re­sem­bles that of Aver­age Joe look­ing for a lazy Sunday af­ter­noon.

He will squeeze out of bed when he’s ready, not when he’s told. En­ergy is con­served, not spent. Break­fast will be op­tional. Video games near nec­es­sary. Just a tem­po­rary dis­trac­tion be­fore his next sleep.

‘‘I nor­mally don’t wake up un­til about 10.30 or 11 and on a nor­mal game day I won’t have break­fast,’’ Tau­malolo said on the eve of North Queens­land’s show­down with Mel­bourne in the grand fi­nal. ‘‘De­pend­ing if I’m home I’ll play PlayS­ta­tion when I wake up and it’s a pretty chilled­out day.

‘‘If we’re away the boys and I like to go have a cof­fee and a bit of a walk around wher­ever we’re stay­ing. We’ll have lunch and then I’m back into bed about three or four hours later.’’

His in­tim­i­dat­ing frame fed and fu­elled while hav­ing slept half the day away, Tau­malolo will ar­rive at the ground a cou­ple of hours be­fore kick-off. Stan­dard fare. Su­per­sti­tions? He doesn’t have many, but div­ing for the lolly bag is one.

‘‘I al­ways eat red snakes be­fore the game,’’ Tau­malolo said. ‘‘And I al­ways put my right boot on first be­fore the left.’’

The warm-ups out of the way, Tau­malolo is an edgy starter. He de­mands a carry in the first set, those thun­der­ous thighs itch­ing to pump like pis­tons as op­po­si­tion de­fend­ers cir­cle. One, two, three, four. All try­ing to drag down the NRL’s new-age wreck­ing ball. ‘‘That first carry is when all the nerves set­tle and I can get into a bit of a rhythm,’’ he said.

‘‘Ev­ery first set we get I try to get a touch or get a carry and I think from there I pick up the game. I go from there.’’

Tau­malolo hears his name called out, op­po­si­tion de­fend­ers bait­ing him to take the next charge. In the build-up to big games, he knows who wants his scalp.

Un­like yes­ter­year, at­tack rather than de­fence is his in­tim­ida­tory weapon of choice. Run over the top of them rather than stand over the top of them.

‘You can’t re­ally hit peo­ple with late shots or go after some­one with­out the ball [these days], so I think the best way [to make my mark] is to find them with the ball and make a state­ment with a carry when­ever you’ve got the ball,’’ Tau­malolo said.

An early state­ment is made. The first few runs are ex­plora- The Sun-Her­ald GETTY IM­AGES tory. Ball in hand, what you look­ing for? ‘‘Peo­ple not mov­ing,’’ Tau­malolo said. ‘‘Nor­mally in a de­fen­sive line you will see de­fend­ers com­ing up to­gether pre­sent­ing a straight line, but I’m al­ways look­ing for that odd de­fender that’s not in the line. That’s where I like to ex­ploit.

‘‘How I get there is en­tirely up to me. If I can get around a few de­fend­ers that’s good, if I have to use a bit of feet to find those gaps then I’ll use them.’’

The num­bers rack up. Me­tre after me­tre after me­tre. Post­con­tact me­tres. Rolled gold in the cur­rent game. Tau­malolo hur­tles head­first into the de­fence again and again, run­ning for more than 5000 me­tres this sea­son – with one game to go. And still some said he had a quiet start to the year.

But do the num­bers re­ally mat­ter? ‘‘No, not re­ally,’’ he said. ‘‘The boys bring it up in train­ing dur­ing re­views. It doesn’t feel like at the time I’ve run for 200 me­tres or what­ever, but they’ll say, ‘you’ve run for so-and-so me­tres’ and I’m not much of a stats man.’’

Ja­son Tau­malolo loves a lie-in, video games and red snakes to get him in the mood for smashing op­po­nents.

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