On Saturday night, when an offload hits the deck and renders a set incomplete for Parramatta, or when Reece Robson digs his shoulder under the ribcage of an opponent causing the ball to spill out, expect plenty of Cowboys to immediately arrive on the scene in celebration.
It’s been the story of their season so far- marking each and every result. North Queensland have been feeding on the scraps of these victories, however large or small, to help power their tilt at a premiership. Chad Townsend has been credited as the orchestrator for eking out every bit of a marginal gain on offer.
“Chad has spoken numerous times about how important energy is in different moments of games,” Todd Payten said when appearing on the On The Ranch podcast.
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“When we’re playing away, we’ve got 20-25,000 fans cheering against us. So, the only ones who can drive the energy is the blokes on the field.
“Whether it’s big moments or small moments, they need to be celebrated.
“It has a really positive effect on what we do and the opposition can sometimes think ‘S***, these guys are ready to go’. It can rattle some teams.”
The Cowboys have been rattling sides all season, off the back of employing these types of mind games along with their youthful exuberance and newfound surety on both sides of the ball.
Townsend’s arrival is considered the catalyst for North Queensland’s impressive rise up the ladder, after finishing in 15th place last campaign with the worst defensive record in the league.
The premiership-winning halfback is undoubtedly the brains behind the operation. Along with Tom Dearden and Scott Drinkwater, the trio have been held accountable by Payten for organising the offence.
“We attack a little bit differently to most teams because it’s driven by the players and they’re playing to their strengths,” Payten said.
The coach described how Townsend is constantly surveying an opponent’s defensive structure, looking for cracks in the wall.
What Payten refers to as ‘cues’ can then spark a chain reaction; Jason Taumalolo ploughing through the middle searching for a quick play-the-ball or Jeremiah Nanai being turned underneath onto an isolated defender.
“When we’re coming off a sideline and a winger is playing the ball – if the fourth man is right under the black dot or closer to the ruck – we want to play long and go coast to coast,” Payten detailed.
“Some teams will have a half who will kick-off, which means they don’t have a half and a fullback in the defensive line, so it leaves them a little bit short on that long side.
“Some teams like to be shoulder-to-shoulder and chase the kick down, so there’s another cue.
“That’s the type of education that we had to put into them over the past 18 months and Chad has been great in delivering a lot of those messages.”
Townsend – written off by many after slipping down the pecking order in Cronulla and spending time on loan at the Warriors – has had a renaissance up north. The No.7 has led his new club to be within touching distance of a grand final appearance.
However, it could have all been so different. Initially, he wasn’t the number one target, with Adam Reynolds reportedly targeted when space in their cap opened up after the medical retirement of Michael Morgan.
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“Part of the decision for us to change tact and go in Chad’s direction was the fact we knew he’d lived abroad having been over in New Zealand for a couple of years,” Payten said.
“He took his wife over there with him, so we knew that leaving Sydney and being out of his comfort zone wasn’t going to be a challenge.”
The veteran has made Townsville his home, acclimatising quickly and showcasing to the rest of his teammates some key principles that got him to the top of the game.
“Since he’s been here, he formed a really quick partnership with Drinky and Val [Valentine Holmes],” the coach said.
“Those three were thick as thieves. They were training everyday- coming in early and then they’d go and play nine holes of golf.
“External to that, some other players saw what they were doing and were coming into training earlier and the group at golf got a little bit bigger.
“Hessy [Coen Hess] is a great trainer so he was quickly into the gym with those guys and he can hit a long ball too. Feldty [Kyle Feldt] is the same.”
Although it wasn’t just the experience Townsend provided at halfback, the standards he was driving on the training paddock or the comradery he was cultivating off the pitch that impressed Payten the most.
It was his ability to build a life away from footy that he thought set a great example to the rest of his squad.
“What Chad has provided is he thinks about life and footy a little bit differently,” Payten revealed.
“He’s got a lot of interests away from rugby league. He’s got his own beer company and YouTube channel and it’s opened the eyes of guys around him which I really like.
“I like our guys being open-minded and well-rounded and that’s what he’s provided in different areas.”
For his part, when Townsend steers the side around the park in a preliminary final this weekend, his source of energy will be provided by trying to prove his doubters wrong.
“I’ve got quite a few things saved on my phone,” he told the NCA NewsWire.
“Every player is different with how they motivate themselves, and for me, this is something I’ve been able to use as fuel throughout the year.”
This is why he has the urge to be one of the first players in the picture when even a hint of a momentum swing appears on the horizon against the Eels.
“We are where we are because of the work we’ve done and we’ve given ourselves an opportunity. Now we have to make the most of it.”
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