With his team falling just two wins short of emulating their premiership glory from 2015, Jason Taumalolo could, without fear of contradiction, say 2016 was his year.
The 23-year-old Auckland product and Cowboys pathways prodigy truly arrived as a rugby league superstar with a watershed year littered with accolades and the fallen bodies of scores of would-be tacklers who tried to halt his progress.
Earmarked as a potential giant in the game from his mid-teens, Taumalolo built upon his impressive 2015 campaign – where he was named Dally M Lock of the Year – with a devastatingly consistent 2016 season, one in which he played all 27 of his team’s NRL games, as well as representing his homeland in the May test and again in the post-season Four Nations tournament.
Taumalolo’s on-field feats were easy enough to quantify … he simply ran hard and fast at opposition defences, skittling defenders like ninepins and building a platform from which his teammates could attack in prime field position.
The hulking lock ran the most metres per game of any player in the NRL over the course of the season – a staggering 4454m, or 165m per match.
All of this power running didn’t affect Taumalolo’s defence – he made an average of 24 tackles a match.
In the Cowboys’ Week 2 finals match against the Broncos at 1300SMILES Stadium, Taumalolo produced what is being hailed as one of the great all-time rugby league performances by a forward.
He made 23 runs, chewing up 270-plus metres; produced 11 tackles breaks; and effected 28 tackles in a Herculean 75-minute effort as the home side edged out the visitors in extra time.
His stellar season was recognised in late September when the young tyro was jointly awarded – alongside Melbourne Storm maestro Cooper Cronk – the 2016 Dally M Medal for the competition’s best player.
The honour made it consecutive Dally Ms for the Cowboys after Johnathan Thurston received his fourth gong at the end of the Cowboys’ successful 2015 premiership charge.
Not surprisingly, Taumalolo was also awarded his second-straight Dally M Lock of the Year; and was awarded the club’s Paul Bowman Medal for Cowboy of the Year.
He was also overwhelmingly voted the club’s Players’ Player of the Year, polling almost three times as many peer votes than his nearest challenger.
Run metres: 4,454 (165m per match)
Average tackles: 24
Line breaks: 11