Jason Taumalolo insists he and his Cowboys teammates are ready to step up in the absence of the retired Johnathan Thurston as he prepares to take some poignant advice from the North Queensland legend to heart.

The Cowboys get their first taste of permanent life without Thurston in Saturday night's blockbuster clash with St George Illawarra in Townsville.

The 25-year-old wrecking ball, who joked that he was "the other JT" left in the team, is determined to develop his leadership qualities for the Cowboys as the club enters the great unknown without their maestro No.7.

"I'm obviously humbled to share the same initials as the great man himself," Taumalolo told NRL.com.

"He's been one of the best players to play for the Cowboys, so to try and follow suit after learning a few things off him is going to be huge.

"I'm developing myself into a leader, just by talking and communicating to my teammates.

"I guess I have the luxury of having a few other players to lean on. Gavin Cooper is an Origin player. 

There's Matt Scott and obviously Morgo [Michael Morgan] too, all Origin players that have experienced a lot. I'm always willing to learn."

Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo.
Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

Taumalolo won the Dally M Medal in 2016 and was awarded the Dally M lock of the year in 2015, 2016 and 2018. The Tongan international has set such high standards on the field that he often carries the burden of expectation, externally at least, that he will win games for the Cowboys on his own each week.

One piece of Thurston advice still resonates with him, and it also ensures that he never lets his teammates down.

"The best bit of advice was to be myself and be my own character and not try to be like anyone else or copy anyone else's style of play," Taumalolo said.

"Obviously no one wants a copy of something original, and coming through the ranks a lot of guys are compared to other players and how they play but Johnathan said to just try and be an original.

"If I can do my job – and that's obviously helping my teammates get better and helping us win games – then I'm more than satisfied with whatever work I do. Each game I give it a real crack. That's the way I play, and if I'm not doing that then I guess people have the right to criticise me, but for myself I'm just more focused on trying to get myself playing great footy again.

"With the team we had we definitely didn't want to finish the way we did last year [in 13th place]. I thought we were capable of more but now we've got a fresh crop of young players coming through the ranks and new recruits. The hunger is definitely there and I'm looking forward to doing my part in helping the team get back into the finals."

Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo.
Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

It is the prospect of watching two former Broncos in action on Saturday night that has Taumalolo licking his lips.

"I'm looking forward to watching Jordan Kahu. I think he will bring a lot to the team," Taumalolo said.

"We like to play with a bit of structure and Jordan brings that style of play where I think he will fit in with our plays. He's got great feet and great ball-playing skills and I think he'll be pretty dangerous.

"The other is obviously Josh McGuire. We will be partnering together for the first time. I've played against him a lot and I know what he's capable of so I'm looking forward to the aggression he will bring to our forward pack. I definitely think his game will complement everyone else's in the pack."

Taumalolo said he was certain half Jake Clifford would contribute to a successful season at some stage, despite missing out on a spot in the team to Te Maire Martin against the Dragons.

The Cowboys want more from hooker Jake Granville this year after he was statistically poor in 2018 and Taumalolo said the 2015 premiership-winner was set to deliver.

"Jake had one of his quieter years last year but we all know what he's capable of and how he's a handful when he's running out of dummy half," Taumalolo said.

"He's real quick and a strong defender, and I think he can change games again. If he can turn back the clock it should be good."