Todd Payten and the North Queensland Cowboys have well and truly exceeded expectations at this point of the season, currently sitting third on the ladder.
In the lead up to the season, Payten faced constant speculation surrounding his relationship with gun forward Jason Taumalolo and the use of Valentine Holmes in the centres.
But the Cowboys boss shrugged it all off with ease, leading his team and finding some fine form, eventually leading to a dominant win over one of the premiership favourites in Round 8.
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“For sure it is, at the beginning of the season a lot of people had them as the wooden spoon favourites, there was all the talk about Jason Taumalolo and the fact that they butted heads,” Fox League’s James Hooper said on NRL360.
“Their defence was outstanding for the opening 20 minutes of that contest, a lot of people were critical of their recruitment, the fact that in many views they had overspent on Chad Townsend, they shifted Valentine Holmes to the centres, you have got Drinkwater now who is playing fullback and has been in terrific touch.
“It is all ticks for Todd Payten at the moment and good on him for having the belief to hold his nerve when a lot of people were firing grenades at him.”
When Todd Payten first entered the role, he laid down the law and openly criticised key players.
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While that move seemed a strange one, potentially putting him off-side with the playing group, Paul Kent believes his squad now know how their ‘no frills’ coach goes about his business. Buzz Rothfield, meanwhile, said Payten’s “mad” approach has been vindicated.
“It is an endorsement of the way he came in last year, remember we were all taken aback by the really forthright talk he came out with,” Kent said.
“But he left no room for excuses, told them exactly what he was expecting of his team and what he required from his team and everyone thought this is going to be interesting to see who this ends, coaches like to come in softly softly and be everyone’s mate.
“He came in with clear standards about what he wanted to achieve, and he has been able to turn that now.
“Over the summer it is like the players have finally understood him, and by understanding the way he talks and this is just who he is, he isn’t a bloke putting on a front, what they have got out of that is an understanding of him.”
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“Not only have they improved, but they have been the biggest improvers by a long way,” NRL360 host Braith Anasta added.
The Daily Telegraph’s Buzz Rothfield went as far to say the Cowboys marquee recruit is the early season buy of the year.
“I thought he was mad last year when he let Clifford go and hired Chad and Tommy Dearden,” Rothfield said.
“I know you don’t like me going off early, but if I was picking a buy of the year, just on eight rounds, Chad Townsend.
“Ahead of (Jackson) Hastings.”
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