Shooting from the hip with a minimum of lip
PAUL Bowman's old Cowboys teammates dubbed him "Bear" 20 years ago because as a shy rookie first-grader, he would rather have a kip than a conversation.
The current North Queensland cohort jokes that you'll first need a hearing aid and then a translator when you pull up a stump next to Scott Bolton.
But a few succinct words from one to the other are keeping the "cannon fodder" Cowboys alive and kicking in 2017.
"This is your fort now, hold it," Bowman told him.
While Jason Taumalolo's gut-busting numbers and eye-watering bank balance make the headlines, Bolton keeps the home fires burning.
With James Tamou (Penrith) and Ben Hannant (retirement) gone, the 10-year Cowboy was always going to rise up the ranks from fourth-choice prop status in 2016.
But when long-time teammate and skipper Matt Scott ruptured his ACL just two weeks into a season in which the club would churn through 32 players and counting, Bowman sought out the Innisfail junior for the quietest of words.
"It's been really rewarding this year, I definitely feel my place in this team," Bolton said.
"I'm feeling more a part of the team, not that I didn't before, but that responsibility is something I think I'm responding to.
"It's a rewarding role that I'm playing and hopefully we can take it a bit further this year.
"It was actually one of the legends of the club, Paul Bowman, who said after the Broncos game that we won by one point, 'this is your fort now, hold it'.
"That was something that sticks. When Paul Bowman says something like that to you, knowing the type of bloke and player he is, it sticks in your head and stays with you.
"He never said too much as a player. But when he did speak, you knew to listen and you did it.
"I'm still trying to do that."
Like Bowman, Bolton won't waste one word when none will do.
Sunday's upset of Cronulla was Bolton's 203rd game for the club, drawing him level with the club's celebrated ex-captain Bowman and behind only Matt Bowen, Johnathan Thurston, Scott and Aaron Payne among the Cowboys' all-time achievers.
But a grin and a sheepish shrug is all the 30-year-old gives you when it's raised.
The five kilos he lost to illness in the lead-up to a round 23 clash with Penrith were answered with 68 minutes, 153 metres from 19 runs and 25 tackles.
Taumalolo's statistics rightly have the rugby league world aflutter. But contributions like this from Bolton hold just as much water in Cowboy country.
Rip a combined 646 NRL games, 48 Origins and 40 Tests out of most team's front-row rotation, as the absences of Scott, Tamou and Hannant have done, and they'd fall in a heap.
Instead the lead taken by Taumalolo, backed by Bolton, has the Cowboys still standing and preparing for a sudden-death showdown with Parramatta this weekend.
Still shooting from the hip, with a bare minimum of lip.
"Jase and Scotty Bolton, without those two guys we wouldn't be in the position we're in," Scott said.
"Bolts and I came through the (Cowboys) Young Guns system together and we've been playing footy for a long time together.
"I think he's probably enjoyed his best year yet. He's been around for a long time, played over 200 games now, but he's just getting better and better.
"His leadership qualities, he's never been one for speeches but he's had to step those up with his talk and me being out.
"He's taken on my role as forward leader and the guys really respond to him and follow him."