Todd Payten fuels Jason Taumalolo rumours in telling comment about Cowboys captaincy

The Cowboys coach made a surprise call to replace his captains for the upcoming season, opting for youth over experience.

Todd Payten announced 33-year-old halfback Chad Townsend and 30-year-old club legend Jason Taumalolo have been replaced by 25-year-old Reuben Cotter and 22-year-old Tom Dearden as co-captains for the upcoming season. Image: Getty
Todd Payten announced Chad Townsend and Jason Taumalolo have been replaced by Reuben Cotter and Tom Dearden as co-captains for the upcoming season. Image: Getty

Cowboys coach Todd Payten has offered his reasons for why he decided to replace captains Jason Taumalolo and Chad Townsend for the upcoming season. North Queensland underperformed in 2023, missing the finals altogether, and the Cowboys coach has moved to shake things up.

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.

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Townsend comes off contract at the end of the year, while Taumalolo still has years to go on his contract, with his mammoth 10-year deal set to end in 2027. Payten said the new captains are "what this club was built for" and explained to Triple M's The Rush Hour that the decision was made for the long-term interests of the club.

"It’s a long-term decision to be fair," Payten said. "Looking at our group, a few guys right at the back end of their career and over the course of the next 12 months or next two seasons, they won’t be here for a number of reasons and we needed to make a shift in that regard so that we had enough time to give the support that Tommy and Reubs need to develop into the best captain they can be when all that experience around them is gone."

Payten said the duo took the call well despite being blindsided and obviously disappointed. "They were a little bit surprised, but they understood where I was coming from," Payten said. "Both those guys have shown great humility around the decision and they’re willing and want us to be successful."

TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 07: Jason Taumalolo of the Cowboys is tackled during the round six NRL match between North Queensland Cowboys and Dolphins at Qld Country Bank Stadium on April 07, 2023 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)
Jason Taumalolo still has years to go on his mammoth 10-year deal which is set to end in 2027. Image: Getty

Jason Taumalolo endures nightmare 2023

Despite having years remaining on his contract, rumours are swirling that Taumalolo could be on the outer after struggling to produce anything near the form of his early Cowboys career, which saw him help the club to the 2015 premiership and win the Dally M in 2016. Taumalolo’s nearly $1million a season contract takes up a lot of North Queensland's salary cap and since Payten took over the side, he has struggled to make much of an impact.

That fact saw his 2023 season as arguably the worst of his career. For the first year in his NRL career, Taumalolo failed to score a single try, had no try assists and registered a career-low 31 tackle breaks and three offloads. He also only managed 2293 metres over the season, his lowest since 2012.

Jason Taumalolo set to seek new pastures?

Pressure on Taumalolo started to mount during the 2021 season when his form dipped drastically. It led to former Queensland Origin star Ben Te’o stating at the beginning of 2022 that either he or Payten needed to go, declaring their relationship was "untenable".

Following the decision to axe Taumalolo as captain, rumours have again begun to circulate that the club may look to offload him. News Corp footy journalist Brent Read says there have been whispers that the coach and player aren't on the same page and if he were to leave, he is a player the Dragons and Bulldogs should target.

"I think he’d be a great pick up for the Dogs because they’re desperately short of middles,” Read said on LISTNR podcast Footy Talk. "I think he’d be a great pickup for the Dragons, and the Dragons need a kill."

While Nine's Michael Chammas believes he would attract plenty of interest if he were to become available, he thinks the $950,000 price tag isn't realistic. Chammas does, however, see clubs willing to take a gamble on him returning to some of his early career form for between $750,000 and $800,000 a year.

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