Jason Taumalolo cops 'brutal' new blow after NRL preliminary final

Jason Taumalolo, pictured here after the Cowboys' loss to the Eels.
Jason Taumalolo looks on after the Cowboys' loss to the Eels. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

Jason Taumalolo has been hit with a grade two dangerous contact charge in a brutal new blow after the Cowboys' loss in the NRL preliminary final.

However it's good news for the Parramatta Eels after Junior Paulo escaped a charge and will be free to play in the grand final after a dangerous throw on Peta Hiku.

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Paulo was put on report late in the Eels' 24-20 victory in Townsville on Friday night, leaving the NSW State of Origin star facing a nervous wait.

But his name did not feature on Saturday's charge sheet, meaning he will not even be fined over the tackle.

The news comes as a massive relief for the Eels, who rely heavily on Paulo and front-row partner Reagan Campbell-Gillard in the middle of the field.

However the news isn't so good for Taumalolo and Tonga's hopes at the upcoming rugby league World Cup.

The Cowboys co-captain was sin-binned early on Friday night after a high hit on Isaiah Papali'i after the Eels forward had passed the ball.

He now faces a three-game suspension after being hit with a grade two charge on Saturday morning.

Junior Paulo, pictured here during the Eels' win over North Queensland.
Junior Paulo (R) looks on during the Eels' win over North Queensland. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

The 29-year-old will be able to use up one of those matches in a warm-up game with France, before missing Tonga's first two group games against Papua New Guinea and Wales.

If the Tongan star was to challenge the ban at the NRL judiciary and lose, another match will be added onto the suspension.

Taumalolo at least avoided a longer ban, with the match review committee only deeming it dangerous contact rather than a shoulder charge.

Nevertheless, some fans were left fuming over the grading.

Cowboys to use heartbreak in 2023

North Queensland coach Todd Payten has challenged his players to use the pain of Friday's loss to Parramatta as fuel for next season.

The Cowboys came agonisingly close to a fourth grand final in club history, but Parramatta outlasted them late to fire back from 20-12 down.

Mid-season recruit Luciano Leilua said the match, much like his season, was a roller coaster.

Leilua joined the Cowboys after a mid-season switch from Wests Tigers and while his former side finished last, he came one game away from the final two.

Leilua said the result was tough but his coach has already set the tone for next year.

Cowboys players, pictured here looking on dejected after their NRL preliminary final loss to Parramatta.
Cowboys players look on dejected after their NRL preliminary final loss to Parramatta. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

"(Todd) said we let that game go, and that we're a better team to let a lead of 20-12 slip," Leilua told AAP.

"Be angry but use it as a fuel for next year."

Payten's straightforward but blunt approach has been a welcome sign for 26-year-old Leilua, who believes he's in career best form since his switch to the Cowboys.

The dial now turns towards to time off in the off-season, then doing it all again. Leilua is confident in the platform they've established after flipping the script in 2022.

"We just got to stay humble and make sure we don't pump our tires up," he said.

"Get ready for a big season next year and it's obviously disappointing in the way we finished but we let that game go. It wont happen again."

with AAP

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