Drinkwater signing a priority for Cowboys

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Todd Payten has declared five-eighth Scott Drinkwater's signature as North Queensland's next top priority, insistent he can still be in the Cowboys' halves next year.

After announcing the acquisition of Chad Townsend last week from Cronulla, the Cowboys signed Tom Dearden from Brisbane on Monday to a three-year deal to solidify their playmakers for 2022.

Drinkwater's heads-up play and kicking game has been instrumental in the Cowboys' three-game winning streak and while Payten says negotiations are yet to begin, the 23-year-old is crucial to the club's long-term plans.

"He's the next cab off rank in terms of our recruitment," Payten said on Tuesday.

"We haven't started negotiations, but it's not far from starting."

It's likely Dearden and Drinkwater will fight for the Cowboys' five-eighth spot as Townsend brings premiership-winning experience with him from the Sharks.

But Payten is cautious as to Drinkwater's deployment in the future.

"He wants to play five-eighth, he's improving from week to week, he's taking in some information which is good," Payten said.

"He cares about winning and losing and cares about his performance. But it's very hard to predict what's going to happen in five, six, seven months time.

"I can tell you that they're (Dearden and Drinkwater) going to be at this club and they're going to be competing hard for a spot within the team."

Club captain Jason Taumalolo has been named to return against the Warriors this weekend after being sidelined because of hand fractures.

The Cowboys skipper hasn't played since round one and will need to pass Thursday's contact session before Payten declares his star forward right to go.