Cowboys future secure despite finals loss

·2-min read

"We put some respect back in the place," North Queensland coach Todd Payten has said after his side fell agonisingly short of the NRL grand final.

The Cowboys' miraculous season came to an end in heartbreaking fashion in front of home fans in a 24-20 preliminary final loss to Parramatta.

Having been tipped to finish bottom of the ladder they defied the odds to finish third. They then upset second-placed Cronulla in week one of finals before falling at the penultimate hurdle.

Payten said midweek, "we're not supposed to be here," but his side battled bravely to the siren in front of a sold-out Queensland Country Bank Stadium, like they had done all throughout 2022.

A club that few rated a chance eight months ago, flipped the script and punched above their weight.

"Toddy's really brought our squad together from day one and he's been tough, him and his staff have coached the hell out of our group and in my eyes he's coach of the year," co-captain Chad Townsend said.

Payten is in negotiation with the club to re-sign until the end of 2026. He's been the architect behind their renaissance from 15th last year to a historic home preliminary final in Townsville.

The bulk of their young talent are signed to fresh, long-term deals.

Murray Taulagi, Scott Drinkwater and Griffin Neame all inked new deals in recent weeks, reinforcing the belief the squad has in the club's direction.

Veteran prop Jordan McLean is also set to re-sign.

Success brings other pressures and one of those is managing the salary cap but the Cowboys have proven to be masters of the art.

With halves Tom Dearden and Chad Townsend both signed until the end of 2024, the Cowboys can build a team around a group of players who they know are staying for the long haul.

Payten and his coaching staff have provided the environment for the players to shine.

His tenure began in 2021 with the road to their current outlook long, last year losing former co-captain Michael Morgan to a career-ending injury and Justin O'Neill retiring.

The addition of 2016 premiership winner Townsend and veteran centre Peta Hiku has proven to be a winner from a experience and leadership perspective.

Behind the calm and barnstorming on-field leadership of Jason Taumalolo, and with tactician Townsend pulling the strings under Payten's keen eye, the Cowboys' pain will be fresh - but a promising future beckons for their young contingent.