Darren Lockyer calls out Jason Taumalolo amid ugly new NRL fallout for Cowboys forward

Taumalolo has paid the price after his side's embarrassing loss to Cronulla.

NRL legend Darren Lockyer has hit out at Jason Taumalolo and the North Queensland forward pack after the Cowboys' embarrassing 36-point flogging by Cronulla in round seven. Taumalolo has paid a heavy price for the 42-6 drubbing against the ladder-leading Sharks, with coach Todd Payten dropping the former Dally M Medal winner to the bench for Saturday night's home match against Penrith.

Taumalolo's record 10-year, $10 million contract with the Cowboys has already come under sharp focus this season, amid criticism the Cowboys simply aren't getting value out of their marquee star. Damning statistics have highlighted a steady decline for the Cowboys forward, who is a former three-time Dally M lock of the year and was co-captain of the Cowboys until Payten demoted him earlier this year.

From right to left, NRL legend Darren Lockyer and Cowboys star Jason Taumalolo.
NRL legend Darren Lockyer has accused Jason Taumalolo and his fellow Cowboys forwards of not showing enough intensity in games. Pic: Getty

Since 2020, Taumalolo's average minutes per game have dropped from 61 to just 49 in 2023, with his major stats including run metres, tackle busts and post contact metres all down over that period. In 2024, Taumalolo's time on the park has plummeted even further and he's only averaging 35 minutes per game. To make matters worse, the 30-year-old has now been replaced as a starting front-rower by Griffin Neame, for the clash against the three-time defending premiers.

Taumalolo is reportedly being paid $950,000 per season and still has three more years to run on his monster deal after this season, such is the dilemma the Cowboys find themselves in. It's understood Payten is trying to preserve the premiership-winner so he is fit and firing at the end of the season but the coach will need more impact from his star middle forward if the Cowboys are going to be finals contenders in 2024.

North Queensland have struggled without injured edge forward Heilum Luki, as well as destructive middle forward Coen Hess, who suffered a season-ending injury. But Maroons and Kangaroos great Lockyer said it's the lack of intensity in the Cowboys forward pack that is most concerning, after turning the blowtorch on Taumalolo and his fellow middle forwards.

“There are people that are capable, but the physicality is not there. I just feel like some of the older guys need to just take it a bit more personal,” Lockyer said on Nine's QLDER podcast. “When they are out there on the field, they need to show some intensity. It starts with the front row and works its way back down the scrum from there.

“A lot of it comes down to attitude... if you get that intensity and get off the line with some purpose and want to be physical, you will bring the rest of the team up with you.” The criticism comes as Taumalolo has been shifted to the bench for the Penrith match and Neame named to start at prop ahead of him. Exciting edge forward Thomas Mikaele has also been named to make his club debut from the bench in a shake-up for Payten's side.

Seen here, Jason Taumalolo is tackled against Parramatta in the NRL.
Jason Taumalolo has been dropped to the bench for the Cowboys' round eight NRL showdown with defending champs Penrith. Pic: Getty


The Cowboys started off the season on fire, winning four of their first five games off the back of some slick attack and enterprising footy. But they've now slumped to back-to-back defeats and despite having the best attack in the competition (183 points for) after seven games, they also have the second-worst defence (191 against). And Lockyer says it comes down to an 80-minute attitude that is clearly lacking at the Cowboys and likely to be punished by the top teams unless they fix it.

"When they're on, they are as good as any team in the competition and particularly their attack - but they just have these lapses," the league great added. "They are lacking an 80-minute performance, we have already said that, but they are also lacking a bit of aggression. They are doing their job, but they are not doing it with purpose and I think that's telling, particularly when you're up against a good team."