Jason Taumalolo has been relied upon as a hard ball runner and tackle buster for most of his NRL career but a shift in his role has unlocked a new dynamic for high-flying North Queensland in 2022.
Averaging 157 metres per game this season and fourth overall in post-contact metres, Taumalolo still wreaks havoc on teams through the middle but it's his ball-playing that's been a key component of the Cowboys' attack.
The Cowboys' final-third attacking shape is wide and staggered deep when shifting to their edges in a back five that boasts several representative players.
Before the ball has width in the play, Taumalolo is stationed either side of the ruck and now determines whether to play out the back or create more space through the middle.
It may seem ever so simple but his mere presence as a potential ball-player and the doubt it throws in defenders' minds unlocks space for x-factor players like Scott Drinkwater and Valentine Holmes to thrive.
Drinkwater has scored 10 tries in 16 appearances this season, rookie back-rower Jeremiah Nanai leads the club with 16 and Holmes' shift to the centres has proven a masterstroke.
Much of their attack has stemmed from the on-field leadership of Chad Townsend and his direction, but Taumalolo says he's always had a ball-playing game in his arsenal.
"I knew I always had a passing game but I've just never used it as much as I have been this year," he told AAP.
"To finally get to use it and play the way we've been playing: how Toddy (coach Todd Payten) wants to play with moving the ball around, it's definitely helped instead of having to take the tough carries every time.
"Everyone seems to be playing well and wanting to do the hard yards. So that has me doing a bit more ball-playing."
His co-skipper Townsend said the side hums like a well-oiled machine when playing to Taumalolo's strengths.
"It's enabled his game to be at his best," Townsend told AAP.
"Not only is he big and powerful and breaks tackles, but he can actually play with the ball and pass and be that link man in the middle.
"We've used him in a few different roles this year where he's had a bit more ball-playing and he can do it all.
"He's unbelievable to play with and I think he's playing some some outstanding footy for us."
Australian Associated Press
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