North Queensland Cowboys coach Todd Payten warmed the hearts of the NRL world with his speech after winning Dally M Coach of the Year, but he couldn't help taking a cheeky dig at the referees in the process.
Payten was a deserving winner after helping lead a stunning turnaround from the Cowboys in 2022, marching to a preliminary final after finishing 15th on the ladder last season.
Paying tribute first to grand finalists Parramatta and Penrith, Payten soon turned his attention to his own players, thanking them for their efforts in what was an unexpectedly outstanding season for the Cowboys - but in doing so said there were some things they couldn't control.
“There is only a few things that is going to hold us back, it is our attitude, injury, the bounce of the ball or the referees calls," Payten quipped.
“We can control our attitude, and I can guarantee I will be pushing you along, enjoy your break, it is well deserved.”
Cowboys fans were left fuming over the manner in which they were eliminated from the finals, with the NRL admitting Parramatta had scored a try from a forward pass in the preliminary final.
It was an amusing note to end an otherwise very classy speech from Payten, who also gave a heartfelt thanks to his wife Julie for the sacrifices she had made to facilitate his coaching career.
— NRL (@NRL) September 28, 2022
Payten encouraged every player and coach in the league to acknowledge the roles their families and partners play in the gruelling NRL business.
“I am going to start with my beautiful wife, she has followed me from Sydney to Townsville, Townsville to New Zealand, she had a successful career path, she has given me three beautiful kids and great support, and I am really lucky," he said.
“Without your love and support I wouldn’t be able to do what I am able to do from Monday to Friday and Saturday, Sunday and every hour in between.
“While I am here I just want to thank all the wives and partners of everyone in our game, we live a hedonistic life, it is gruelling, it is taxing, and you guys play a big part in what our boys are able to do.
“Keep propping them up, keep making them better off the field and we will do our jobs to make sure they are good both on and off the field.”
— 🇦🇺 Greg 🇦🇺 (@Crackadax) September 23, 2022
So there you have it NRL fans.
The NRL have officially cost the Cowboys a place in the 2022 GF.
A blatant forward pass!
The crowd saw it.
Everyone at home saw it.
The ref & 2 touch judges missed it!!
The bunker surely seen it but obviously cannot rule!
— Newt (@PaulNew55072423) September 26, 2022
Eels v Cowboys result - absolutely shameful
A disgrace... this why I no longer follow NRL
— Shaun Hennessy (@ShaunHennessy2) September 23, 2022
Todd Payten praised for classy tribute to NRL grand finalists
The Cowboys were left heartbroken after Parramatta claimed a narrow 24-20 victory in their preliminary final, a rare win in Queensland for the Eels.
There was no hint of sour grapes though, with Payten urging both teams to make the most of a moment every other team in the competition was 'envious' of.
“This is a nice consolation for what was a disappointing result last Friday,” he said after accepting his award.
“I just want to say firstly, everyone in that roped off area, everyone outside of that roped off area are envious of what you are going to experience on Sunday.
“I wish Brad (Arthur), Ivan (Cleary) and the respective squads, all the girls, getting there is really hard, and whether you win or lose it is a great achievement. Best of luck to all involved.”
Most of all though, Payten wanted to acknowledge the Cowboys players for their determination to climb their way up the ladder.
Putting a disappointing 2021 season marred by rumours of a rift between the coach and skipper Jason Taumalolo behind them was no small task, but Payten commended his team for uniting.
“Before we start with our players, I want to start with all the players in the room, you guys are warriors, our game is so tough to play,” Payten said.
“It is physically tough, it is mentally demanding and what you put your bodies and minds trough week after week, it is so awesome.
“My job is so easy because of the strength of character in our game through the men we have, and I am going to finish with our players.
“I want to thank you guys for trusting me and our staff, I said first day back in pre-season the only limitations we have are the decisions we make as a group and individuals.
“You guys gave yourself to the team, you gave yourselves to me and the staff and worked really hard day after day.
“That is why we improved so dramatically, it was disappointing the way it finished but we have set ourselves up moving forward."
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