North Queensland Cowboys forward Jason Taumalolo's powerful performances have been earning him rave reviews, but the Auckland-born Tongan powerhouse has not been happy with his own game and aims to produce his best form in tomorrow's grand final against the Brisbane Broncos.
The 22-year-old backed up from an impressive 2014 campaign, in which he starred in New Zealand's Four Nations triumph, and on Monday was rewarded for another stellar club season with the Dally M Lock of the Year award.
However, while grateful to receive the accolade, Taumalolo insists he has plenty of improvement left in him, and says he failed to live up to his own lofty standards throughout what he describes as a mixed season.
"From my expectations, to be honest, no, I don't think I've actually played how I should have and how I thought I would be playing," he said.
"I was pretty strong at the start of the season but started fading at the back half, but this finals campaign has been good. I've been working hard and playing the style of football I know I can play.
"It's a huge honour winning an award like that. Having the likes of Paul Gallen in the same position and even to win the award itself, it's a huge honour.
"But defensively I could have been a lot better and I haven't been as dynamic as what everyone has been saying I am this year, and what I'm capable of.
"I know that I'm capable of that too, but I just haven't done that consistently this year. I'm still hopeful that on Sunday I'll play my best footy."
He credits coach Paul Green for helping to improve his game since taking the reins from former coach Neil Henry at the start of last season.
Taumalolo struggled to produce his best under Henry, and contemplated quitting the Cowboys two years ago when he found himself dropped to feeder-club Mackay, in the second-tier Queensland competition.
Green's arrival brought a lift in intensity to the club and Taumalolo says he has responded well to his demands.
"The biggest one for Greeny is he holds every player accountable for how they perform," he said. "I got held accountable for my form around the back end and I got benched for two games, but it motivated me more to play my best footy so I could get back into the starting team.
"He expects us to do that week-in and week-out and it puts pressure on some positions, so that motivates us as players to produce our best. The boys have done that this year."
Ahead of the biggest game of his career, Taumalolo is well aware of what a grand final win would mean not just for himself and his teammates, but for the whole Townsville community and greater North Queensland area.
"To be a part of the team that brought the first premiership to the Cowboys - if we do win it - it will be life-changing, and it would mean everything to the North Queensland region," he said. "You drive around town and there's all the Cowboys flags and signs on shops. The team here is a huge part of the community and when you drive around Townsville you see that."
The advice from co-captain Johnathan Thurston has been to embrace and enjoy the atmosphere.
"He told us that it is a special occasion for us players and we know that we won't get this opportunity ever again. So he told us to soak it all up and don't fight the feeling that we're playing a grand final and just enjoy the week."