Wests Tigers captain James Tamou says his “heart dropped” when he realised a verbal attack on referee Ben Cummins may have ended his NRL career.
Late in the Tigers’ record-breaking 72-6 loss to the Sydney Roosters, Tamou knocked on and conceded a penalty for throwing the ball away in self-admonishment.
He turned his frustrations on Cummins and was sin-binned for dissent in the 79th minute but had his punishment upgraded to a sending-off for calling the referee “f****** incompetent” as he left the field.
Usually calm and collected, the veteran’s brain snap was indicative of how frustrating a night it was for the Tigers, who left the SCG having suffered their heftiest defeat in joint-venture history.
“I apologise for my actions towards Ben Cummins,” a forlorn Tamou told reporters.
“(The referees) do a terrific job. The frustration got the better of me.”
Tamou is set to face suspension and could be referred directly to the NRL judiciary on Sunday morning without having the option of entering a plea.
Melbourne hooker Brandon Smith was referred for calling referee Adam Gee a “cheating bastard” in July, and keen on deterring players from committing similar offences, the judiciary banned him for four weeks.
A two-week ban would rub Tamou out for the remainder of the season but the 300-game prop forward said he would accept any punishment handed down.
“I’ll wear the criticism all week. I’ve got to be accountable for my actions,” he said.
“I’ve let everyone down. I’ve let myself down. I’m embarrassed.
“I’ve got four kids at home and that’s how they’re going to see that their dad acts.”
Tamou’s contract runs out at the end of the year and he will be 34 by the time the 2023 season begins.
While he is in negotiations to extend his career by at least another year, Tamou said the possibility of his retiring on such inauspicious terms was difficult to swallow.
“I didn’t think of that until someone just mentioned it. My heart dropped,” he said.
“It would be a tough way to go out of a game that has given me a lot.
“It’d be great to go around again but I’m also a bit of a pessimist. If the time comes to hang up the boots, I’ll be a realist and go out and find a job.”
Post-match press conferences are not mandatory for NRL captains but Tigers interim coach Brett Kimmorley applauded Tamou for choosing to front the media.
“Jimmy was the first one to put his hand up and say, ‘I want to come and do the press conference’ and make himself accountable,” he said.
“That’s says more about the stature of the man than 300 games.”
Roosters captain James Tedesco has played for NSW in the State of Origin alongside Tamou and said he felt for his Tigers counterpart, who has led the playing group through a difficult year.
In 2022, the Tigers have endured the mid-season dismissal of coach Michael Maguire, long-term injuries to key players Adam Doueihi, Luke Brooks and Jackson Hastings and will finish the season with their worst win-loss record as a joint venture.
They can likely only avoid their first wooden spoon by winning one of their remaining two games.
“It’s probably just a build-up of frustration over the year for Jimmy,” Tedesco said of Tamou’s spray.
“A lot of (the Tigers) were pretty frustrated with the scoreline and how they were playing.”