Johnathan Thurston believes Todd Payten's ruthlessness in the NRL offseason will help rejuvenate the North Queensland Cowboys side. The Cowboys were predicted by many to challenge for the premiership last season but ended up finishing 11th, in what was a dismal year for the club.
Payten has reacted and made massive moves in the offseason, bringing in new assistant coaches and assigning two new co-captains, a move Thurston believes was needed. " There's been a lot of change actually, while there's still the same squad, the coaching staff has changed, with James Maloney an assistant there and Justin Morgan so they'll have different styles and structures they'll look to implement into the team," Thurston told Wide World of Sports.
ON THE PROWL: Nathan Cleary's younger brother turns heads at Panthers
"I think that's what they needed, they needed a freshen-up and will certainly get that with James Maloney there. I went on a tour with Jimmy so I know what he brings, he's a winner, he's a winner wherever he's gone and that's what he'll want to instil into the young people at the Cowboys."
Maloney coming into the Cowboys set-up is a big acquisition for the club, bringing with him many years of NRL first-grade experience. It comes after the Cowboys coach made the surprising call to replace his captains for the upcoming season, opting for youth over experience.
Payten announced on Sunday that halfback Townsend, 33, and club legend Taumalolo, 30, have been replaced as co-captains by the younger Reuben Cotter, 25, and Tom Dearden, 22. The North Queensland coach admitted the decision shocked Taumalolo and Townsend but insisted the club needed to look to the future, a sentiment echoed by Thurston.
"Obviously they're looking to the future," he said. "I don't think Chad or Jason's roles will change other than the coin toss so Tom and Reuben are signed their long-term and they will certainly need Chad and the rest of the boys in that leadership role to help develop them into great leaders as well.
"They do all the little things right already so the more games they get under their belt in this captaincy role, the more experience they get, they'll understand how to handle pressure a bit more and it's a very exciting time to have two homegrown locals from NQ captaining the club."
Dearden's new assignment as co-captain sees him become North Queensland's youngest-ever captain. The five-eighth has taken the record off Thurston, who was 23 when he took the reins in 2007.
Johnathan Thurston says he "totally understands" Cameron Smith stepping down
Thurston has thrown his support behind Maroons great Cameron Smith after the NRL legend decided to walk away from his coaching role with the Queensland State of Origin side this week. Smith had been an assistant coach alongside Thurston in Slater's Maroons squad, which brought the state back-to-back series wins.
Queensland Rugby League announced on Wednesday night that Smith was leaving the role to focus on grassroots footy and his media commitments with Channel 9. "I'm very grateful to Billy and the QRL for the opportunity to be a part of the Queensland coaching team," Smith said in a statement.
"It's been a fantastic two series working with quality players. They're quality people to work with and they've certainly helped me as a rookie assistant coach.
"I was lucky enough to represent the jersey many times but to experience it from a different lens as a coach, and being able to watch this new generation play the way they did and represent the state in the manner in which they did, was highly rewarding. This year I've decided to coach at the grassroots level at the Currumbin Eagles. I feel it's really important to get back to grassroots level because that's where our next generation of players come from."
Thurston told Wide World of Sports that he "totally understands" the decision and said Smith will still be around the squad. The North Queensland Cowboys great is adamant Smith will still make himself available to Slater, his coaching staff and the players for anything they need. "He'll still be around and involved, he's got an open line on his phone so hopefully he answers it," Thurston joked.
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.