The Wests Tigers fans at Leichhardt Oval are known for their boisterous behavior, especially when it comes to heckling the visiting coach. However, when the Tigers faced off against the North Queensland Cowboys five weeks ago, the fans were surprisingly well-behaved towards Cowboys coach Todd Payten. Perhaps it was because they felt sorry for the struggling Cowboys or maybe it was out of respect for Payten, who had previously played for the Tigers.
Payten recalls that night vividly. The lack of commitment shown by his players was glaring and the crowd noise beneath the old main grandstand was deafening. It was so loud that Payten had to postpone his team speech until they returned to their hotel in town. The memory of that embarrassing 66-18 defeat still lingers.
Interestingly, Payten had the opportunity to catch up with fellow members of the 2005 Tigers‘ premiership team at Totti’s restaurant the day before the game. He remembers feeling relieved that the reunion took place before the match, as it would have been awful if it had happened afterwards. The significance of that night at Leichhardt will not be forgotten when the Cowboys host the Tigers in Townsville on Saturday evening. The game is expected to be close to a sell-out.
Since their crushing defeat, the Cowboys have shown immense improvement. They pushed Parramatta close and secured victories against strong teams like Melbourne, Penrith, and Souths. Those matches marked a turning point in their season. Payten acknowledges that he questioned his players’ commitment that fateful night and decided to delay the post-match discussion until they returned to their hotel. Mental preparation was a key topic of conversation during those somber meetings, as Payten probed his players to reflect on their performance.
The team’s bounce-back was evident against Parramatta, and that ignited a renewed belief across the entire squad. Currently sitting two points outside the top eight with two byes still to come, the Cowboys are optimistic. The return of their star players further bolsters their chances. This season, the team has already utilized 31 players, a significant increase from last year’s 23. The challenges faced after the World Cup affected the team’s cohesion, but Payten attributes some of the struggles to the perception around town. The inflated egos resulted in a loss of focus for some individuals.
The Cowboys have been working hard to remind themselves of what works for them and what doesn’t. Their recent victories have injected some much-needed momentum, but Payten acknowledges that there is still plenty of work to be done. He has always believed in the team’s ability, asserting that attitude plays a crucial role in football success. Payten’s demeanor has noticeably improved, evident by the smile on his face.
In fact, there is video footage showing Payten entering the dressing room after a recent win wearing a T-shirt featuring his own face. The shirt was designed by the club doctor, Chris Ball, who was encouraged by Payten to lead by example in front of the players despite his anti-authority tendencies. The coach’s good spirits and positive energy have made him a welcome figure among the team.
Saturday’s match against the Tigers will undoubtedly serve as a reminder of that humiliating defeat a few weeks ago. However, the Cowboys are eager to prove how much they have turned things around since then. With the support of a passionate home crowd and a renewed sense of belief, they are determined to continue their upward trajectory in the NRL standings.