The 2019 National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s Golden Boot winner Thomas James is one of those players who cannot stop finding the back of the net.
The prolific forward affectionately known as ‘TJ’ has experienced a stellar maiden campaign for the Wollongong Wolves, firing home a competition-leading 22 goals.
His 81st minute penalty sealed a final day 1-0 victory over Marconi Stallions at WIN Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The strike ensured that James would finish the regular season with a tally one clear of APIA Leichhardt’s Chris Payne, leading him to lift the Golden Boot as well as the Premiership.
Prior to this season, the 26-year-old arrived in ‘The Gong’ boasting a remarkable goalscoring CV from his time at Canberra FC, where he registered 80 goals in just 83 appearances.
Last campaign, the Englishman struck 19 goals in 17 games for the treble-winning club, taking home Player of the Year and Golden Boot accolades in the National Premier Leagues Capital Football competition.
This year, the striker has not just recreated his Capital heroics; he has exceeded them, playing an instrumental role in Wollongong’s first Premiership capture in 31 years.
Looking back on the campaign to date, the highly motivated James is satisfied with his side’s achievements, despite feeling he could have contributed even more on a personal level.
“It’s been a very good season,” he reflected.
“But as a team it was nothing we didn’t expect coming into the year.
“On a personal note I feel it could have been better.
“I could have broken the record (of 23 goals set by Jordan Murray in 2018), but a couple of things put a stop to that.
“Luke and I had a chat about that (the Golden Boot) before I signed, and it was definitely part of the agreement in me coming down.”
Born in East London, James donned the iconic red and white of Nottingham Forest as a child.
After his parents divorced, James moved to Boston, Lincolnshire and over the years represented Boston Town in the United Counties League and Boston United in the Conference North.
At the age of 20, he made a lifestyle decision to relocate down under and has not looked back since.
As well as spending four successful seasons with Canberra FC, last year James completed his study of Building Construction and Business Management.
It was then that the Wolves declared interest in luring the striker to ply his trade in the NPL NSW Men’s competition.
After one trial game against the Central Coast Mariners, Luke Wilkshire believed he had identified the perfect man to lead the line for his new-look Wolves outfit.
And less than twelve months later, James has already more than repaid his manager’s faith.
“I originally came to Australia just for a getaway, and I ended up finding myself a team (Canberra FC) and played one year with them,” James recalled.
“I went home for a month before Canberra FC called me back, they offered to sponsor me to study and I ended up staying there for four years.
“After I graduated, Luke gave me a call and said he was interested in me coming down to the Wolves, so I played the trial against Mariners and after that I signed.”
On Sunday, Wollongong celebrated an incredible campaign which saw them finish runaway Premiers, nine points clear of second placed APIA, boasting competition-leading records in both attack and defense.
Nobody quite knew what to expect from the Wolves in 2019, who under the tutelage of rookie manager Wilkshire were very much an unknown quantity prior to a ball being kicked.
However, the former Socceroo has proven more than capable in fine-tuning an outfit who play a spellbindingly ruthless style of play.
James believes the collective attitude of the playing squad has been the key to their success.
“We have no egos in the team, and we proved the league is not as difficult as everyone says it is,” the number nine revealed.
“We all like working in the right direction, are focused, and want to win.”
Despite their remarkable record so far, everything will be on the line as the Wolves embark on their journey in the 2019 Finals Series, eyeing off a spot in the Grand Final at Bankwest Stadium on the 31st August.
James revealed the Wolves are more than confident that they have what it takes to go all the way and capture another prized piece of silverware.
The attacker knows what it takes to do just that.
After falling at the final hurdle three years in a row with Canberra, James belatedly broke his Grand Final hoodoo in 2018.
Of course, he found himself on the scoresheet with a decisive brace which earned Canberra FC the title over arch-rivals Canberra Olympic in a come-from-behind 2-1 triumph.
“We’re playing the same teams we have played all year and we know we can beat anyone in this league,” James said.
“I definitely see us in the Grand Final.
“We all have a job to do, we all know our roles within the team and whether we’re on the bench or out there we all have a job to do.
“The Premiership is the most important achievement, but to lift the Championship would be the icing on the cake.”
Wollongong are now one victory away from the big dance.
As a reward for their place at the summit of the ladder, TJ and the Wolves will enjoy a weekend off before taking on the winner of APIA Leichhardt and Blacktown City in the Major Semi Final at WIN Stadium on Wednesday 21st August.
But first, they look forward to testing themselves in a glamour friendly against the reigning A-League Champions Sydney FC at WIN Stadium this upcoming Wednesday night.
By National Premier Leagues NSW Men’s Reporter Chris Curulli (Twitter handle @ChrisCurulli)