‘Won’t be here’: Cowboys coach Todd Payten ignites Jason Taumalolo rumour mill amid captaincy bombshell

North Queensland Cowboys coach Todd Payten has raised more than a few eyebrows after opening up on his surprise call to replace his captains.

The Cowboys were shock underperformers in 2023, missing the finals after preliminary final berth in 2022.

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So the Cowboys have made a move, replacing 33-year-old halfback Chad Townsend and 30-year-old club legend Jason Taumalolo with 25-year-old Reuben Cotter and 22-year-old Tom Dearden.

Both Cotter and Dearden have represented Queensland at State of Origin level.

Payten said the new captains are “what this club was built for”.

But it’s the replacement of Taumalolo and Townsend that surprised most.

The pair will play for the Cowboys this season with Townsend off-contract at the end of the year.

However, Taumalolo is still in the middle of his monster 10-year deal at the club, which is set to end after 2027.

Which makes Payten’s comments on Triple M’s The Rush Hour QLD with AB and Elliott all the more intriguing.

“It’s a long-term decision to be fair,” Payten explained.

“Looking at our group, a few guys right at the back end of their career and over the course of the next 12 months or next two seasons, they won’t be here for a number of reasons and we needed to make a shift in that regard so that we had enough time to give the support that Tommy and Reubs need to develop into the best captain they can be when all that experience around them is gone.”

Payten also praised both players but added they were blindsided by the call.

“They were a little bit surprised, but they understood where I was coming from,” Payten added.

“Both those guys have shown great humility around the decision and they’re willing and want us to be successful.”

Since coming into the NRL as a coach, Payten has been nothing if not a straight shooter, seemingly hinting at the fact Taumalolo was on the outer from the club having been unable to recapture the form of his early career which saw him star in the club’s 2015 premiership and win the 2016 Dally M.

There’s been no secret Taumalolo’s nearly $1m a season contract takes up a large chuck of salary cap space, while he his on-field performances have shown he doesn’t appear to gel with Payten’s strategy almost from day one.

Taumalolo’s 2023 season was a nightmare individually, failing to score a try for the first time in a full season of his career, while he also registered just 31 tackle breaks (career low), three offloads (career low), 2293m overall (lowest since 2012) at an average of 143m per game (lowest since 2013) in 16 games in 2023.

He also didn’t have a try assist and registered just one line break.

Early in 2022, former Queensland Origin star Ben Te’o declared Taumalolo and Payten’s relationship “untenable” and said “one needs to go”.

The latest move, and particularly Payten’s comments, have seemingly reignited rumour mill that Taumalolo is on the outer at the club.

Speaking on LISTNR podcast Footy Talk, Newcorp footy journalist Brent Read said there had been “whispers they’re not on the same page”.

“I think he’d be a great pick up for the Dogs, because they’re desperately short of middles,” Read said. “I think he’d be a great pick up for the Dragons, and the Dragons need a kill.”

Nine’s Michael Chammas said he believed some teams would baulk at a price tag of $950,000, but suggested he’d “would be a bad buy” for $750,000 $800,000.

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