The Sunday Mail (Queensland)
I WILL FIX THIS MESS
PAYTEN INSISTS HE’S THE RIGHT MAN TO RESTORE COWBOYS TO GLORY DAYS
ROOKIE Cowboys mentor Todd Payten insists he isn’t doubting his ability as an NRL coach and is adamant he has the skill set to haul North Queensland out of their worst form crisis in almost 20 years.
As he prepares for today’s clash against Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval, Payten opened up to The Sunday Mail about the Cowboys’ dismal start, his self-belief and why the club is not living up to the values of the people of north Queensland.
When the Cowboys sacked Paul Green last year and handed Payten a three-year deal, the NRL coaching greenhorn was so highly rated even club legend Johnathan Thurston backed him to engineer a North Queensland revival.
But after a month as Green’s successor, Payten has yet to register a win. The 42-year-old is a coach under siege at 0-4. He has been pilloried for criticising star forward Jason Taumalolo. There are concerns about his body language and brutal critiques in press conferences. To compound it all, he must navigate the Cowboys’ recovery mission without his playmaking co-captain Michael Morgan, who announced his shock retirement on Friday.
On the surface, it all seems too much for a rookie coach to handle. But Payten remains confident he can steer the club through the postThurston and Morgan era as the Cowboys risk missing the finals for a fourth consecutive season this year. It would be North Queensland’s worst seasonal stretch since 2003.
“I wouldn’t say I’m doubting myself at all,” Payten said.
“Yes … I am questioning things and I am thinking of how things can be done better at this club.
“It’s consuming in that way but I honestly don’t doubt my ability to turn this around.
“I don’t doubt who we have got in our organisation on the staff and I don’t doubt our collective ability as a club.
“It’s been challenging. The first few weeks my ego was bruised, but I am pretty pragmatic about how we can fix it and get on with it and that’s what I am doing.
“I’m staying positive. We just need to jag a win to spring some confidence and belief, then we can go from there, but I know we have a lot of work to do.
“I was under no illusions coming in how difficult it would be.”
Part of Payten’s rebuilding methodology involves Cowboys players honouring the psyche of north Queenslanders. For 33 years, the Knights have built their football around the blue-collar roots of Newcastle’s mining region.
Payten, an assistant to Green when the Cowboys won their historic first premiership in 2015, believes North Queensland’s brand of football must reconnect culturally to the folk that fork out their hardearned cash to watch them.
The Cowboys have conceded 92 points in the past fortnight against the Titans and Cronulla.
“I want our style of footy to reflect the type of people we represent in north Queensland,” he said.
“The people of this north Queensland region are honest, hardworking, resilient and unassuming.
“At the moment we are a long way from that.
“But in time that’s what I want our game model to get to. I want to see that style of footy in this club.
“At the moment, how we are performing is not reflecting that.
“Our supporter base are pretty solid, but every fan base in the NRL just wants to see consistent effort. As a coach, I want to bring that attitude to the club.”
The Cowboys’ clash with Tigers on Sunday represents a trip down memory lane for Payten, a front-row prodigy who made his top-grade debut at 17 for Canberra in 1996.
But his best years were at the Tigers. He spent eight seasons at the club and was a member of their fairytale 2005 premiership win. Ironically, he clinched his premiership ring against the Cowboys, scoring the try which sealed the Tigers’ 30-16 victory in the grand final.
“Everyone wants to win a comp and I’ve learned how hard it is to do it,” he said. “Looking back at that group (the Tigers team of 2005), we didn’t have any egos. The older guys went out of their way to look after the young guys. If we had a social get together, everyone would be there, so we had a great connection as a club. It has an impact on how your football goes.
“The thing I liked was Tim Sheens (Tigers coach) wasn’t afraid to play blokes at a young age. He did that with me (Sheens gave Payten his debut at Canberra) and several other players such as Benji Marshall, Liam Fulton and Chris Lawrence.
“He put trust in the players and thought if they were good to go, just believe in them and let them have a go.”
Sheens‘ mindset is now shaping Payten’s style as he looks to cultivate the next wave of Cowboys talents headlined by Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Tom Gilbert, Griffin Neame, Ben Condon and Heilum Luki.
“We have some really good young kids here and it’s important we develop them as much as we can,” he said.
“But I don’t want to throw them all into the NRL at the same time and leave them exposed.
“I am mindful of who to put in the team and when. I really believe we have seven or eight young kids under our squad at the moment that could kick on and play some decent first grade over time, but I have to be smart with it.”
I am prett y pragmatic about how we c an f ix it and get on with it COWBOYS COACH TODD P AYTEN