Players' vibe calms Cowboys coach Payten

·3-min read

Nine of North Queensland's players contested their first NRL semi-final a fortnight ago, but coach Todd Payten says their approach to their biggest game of their lives has calmed him.

Payten, who is in negotiations to extend his tenure as head coach until the end of 2026, confirmed the Cowboys had come through unscathed after their captain's run ahead of Friday night's grand-final qualifier against Parramatta in Townsville.

For the first time in their history the Cowboys will host a preliminary final.

Payten said he viewed it as "a wonderful opportunity" and one the players would embrace, not fear.

"They're not going to be overawed. They've calmed me throughout the week. Being around that group has made me feel relaxed," Payten said.

"It's the biggest game we've had here in Townsville.

"It sold out in two minutes. The town's abuzz. We are getting plenty of positive comments in and around town and I think that's great for our players to see and feel that.

"In the 25 rounds and the semi-final we found our own identity. We know it works and there's a real belief, a calm belief amongst the group."

The Cowboys have been boosted this year by a core group of their players -Tom Dearden, Reuben Cotter, Tom Gilbert, Murray Taulagi and Jeremiah Nanai - making their State of Origin debuts and Payten said the big game atmosphere would not be foreign to them.

The Cowboys, tipped by many pundits at the start of the year to be wooden spooners, have won all seven of the previous finals they have hosted.

"It's a good record. The crowd make a big difference playing here in Townsville," Payten said.

"We want our fans to get right behind us and make it loud and uncomfortable and cheer our boys as much as they can.

"We haven't given much thought at any stage throughout the season to what has been said outside this building.

"We're not supposed to be here so there's no pressure, we're ready to go. We'll be relaxed and we'll play well."

Payten confirmed "the process has started" with the Cowboys hierarchy for an expected three-year extension to his coaching deal.

"They know how comfortable I am and how much I love this town and club and they've expressed similar that they want me to stay. So it'll get done when it gets done," he said.

"We've laid a good foundation moving forward and I have no desire to be in any other place than this club.

"I enjoy the town, this is our family's home and this playing group are cracking kids and that's what makes it more enjoyable for me as a coach."

His team's performance is the only thing on Payten's mind right now, as he revealed what his final message to the group would be before they run out.

"We're the Cowboys. Pretty simple," he said.