JASON Taumalolo is leading Tonga on a giant-killing run towards a World Cup final but with more success comes the realisation he may have made a $10 million mistake.
Tonga is into the semis after defeating a resilient Lebanon 24-22 on Saturday, a victory that came a week after creating history by becoming the first ever tier two side to defeat a tier one nation when it upset New Zealand 28-22 in Hamilton.
All eyes were on Taumalolo in that clash after he snubbed New Zealand - who he'd played 10 Tests for - and pledged his allegiance to Tonga in a move that rocked the rugby league community. It's paid dividends for the North Queensland big bopper and the Pacific Islanders - they're through to the final four while Fiji knocked the Kiwis out in their quarter-final on Saturday.
"Give Taumalolo the Golden Boot (for the best player in the world) now," NRL great Matthew Johns said on the Triple M Grill Team on Monday.
"He got the Dally M Medal 12 months ago but he was better this year. Then he shifted across to Tonga - a tier two team - and he's on the brink of taking them to a World Cup final.
"I've never seen a bloke who's not a playmaker have such an impact on a football team.
"This bloke's just leading the way through brute force."
But Taumalolo's incredible form - which helped the Cowboys make the NRL grand final against all odds this year - is emphasising he may have been too hasty in signing a $10 million, 10-year deal with the North Queensland club earlier this year.
The contract was the richest in NRL history and proof of just how highly the Cowboys rate the damaging forward. After sharing Dally M Medal honours with Cooper Cronk in 2016, he was stiff to miss out on the gong this year after becoming the first forward to ever run for 5000m in a season.
But despite the security of a long-term deal in a sport where careers can be cut short in an instant, Taumalolo may have sold himself short. He signed off on his $10m windfall before a new salary cap was confirmed and before a new TV rights deal had been sorted out.
The way he's playing for Tonga - and the leadership he's bringing to the group - suggests had he held off contract talks, he would be commanding a much larger sum.
"Someone (Taumalolo or the Cowboys) are going to get a dud deal and at the moment Taumalolo's got a dud deal," Johns said today. "It should have been $20 million for 10 years, and even then that might be a little cheap."
While Johns' comments above were lighthearted, they came after he predicted one party would realise they copped a raw deal when Taumalolo agreed to terms in March.
"Someone's going to feel ripped off before the end of it or halfway through it," Johns told the Grill Team. "I just don't think these big deals work.
"On one side of the coin you may have Jason Taumalolo - as unlikely as it is right now - losing form and they (the Cowboys) all of a sudden start to get twitchy and they start trying to ship him off.
"On the other side of the coin suddenly payments go through the roof with the next TV rights deal and poor old Jason's sitting there capable of earning $1.8 or $1.9 million a year and he's earning $1 million."
But seeing the passion in Taumalolo's eyes when he led Tonga's pre-match cultural challenge - the Sipi Tau - for the first time against New Zealand, you get the feeling he's not in the game for the money.
Tonga will play England in a semi-final this Saturday, while Australia takes on Fiji for a spot in the decider on Friday night in Brisbane.