Jason Taumalolo is set to play noticeably fewer minutes under new Cowboys coach Todd Payten as strike weapons Valentine Holmes, Scott Drinkwater and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow are rotated through multiple backline positions.
Payten has made plain his plans to overhaul North Queensland's stagnant, overly structured play of recent seasons.
In identifying a significant shift to more up-tempo football under the six-again rules, $10 million man Taumalolo is being sized up for the 50 minutes of game time he saw en route to the Cowboys' historic 2015 premiership.
That season Taumalolo averaged 49 minutes each match, but over the past four seasons has been bumped up to just over 60 minutes each outing as North Queensland slumped to the wrong end of the ladder.
Payten has tinkered with his edges and outside backs all summer, training Holmes and Tabuai-Fidow both at fullback, centre and wing, and Drinkwater in the halves and at the back, as his first-choice 17 remains a work in progress.
What has been decided is a plan to ease Taumalolo's load as he enters his 10th full NRL season at age 27, with another seven years to run on the longest contract in the game.
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"Jase is here for another six or seven years so we have to treat him like a long-term investment," Payten said on Thursday.
"There are improvements in his game and that's around his defensive efforts. But Jase has been left on the field for 60-70 minutes at a time, for a big man he's going to have to cut some corners somewhere to get through the time.
"Our mindset as coaches is we're going to ask for more quality than quantity for him.
"The first thought process is around capping his stints. I don't need him to play 40 minutes. I need him to do his job for 25 to 30 tops. He can have a rest, come back and finish the game.
"We all see what he can do from an attacking point of view. Sometimes under fatigue he puts some guys around him under pressure with some of his movements."
Payten has been conducting weekly Saturday scrimmages between his top tier squad, deliberately splitting his biggest names up evenly across the two sides as he trials several players in new positions.
Prop Peter Hola has spent plenty of time training as an edge back-rower while Francis Molo has pushed into contention for a starting middle role for round one.
Meanwhile the 26 points North Queensland conceded per game (second-most in the NRL last year) will play a part in Payten's call on the No.1 jumper.
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Holmes was hampered by injury throughout his first season as a marquee custodian, prompting a move back to the wing where he ranks as one of the game's elite finishers.
Both Drinkwater and 19-year-old speedster Tabuai-Fidow have played NRL at fullback and moved around the backline throughout the off-season, with an eye to the February 27 trial against Brisbane.
"This pre-season I haven't pigeon-holed anyone into one position, I've shuffled them around," Payten said.
"We've got three quality fullbacks having a dig at the moment.
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"They all understand how the team's going to be picked and the biggest criteria for me and the coaching staff, and that's our organisation at the back and that's stopping tries.
"We were the second worst defensive team so first and foremost have to fix up our defensive system, the way that we tackle and hold our team.
"Whoever gets that right over the next month will start in round one."
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