Todd Payten gave a scathing assessment of the Cowboys' performance in his first game in charge with superstar Jason Taumalolo among those in the firing line following the 24-0 loss to the Panthers on Saturday.
Payten pulled no punches, describing his side's overall performance as "ordinary" and "concerning" before attention turned to Taumalolo's minimal impact in the loss.
After making it clear that Taumalolo would see less game time in 2021, Payten played the Tongan powerhouse for 51 minutes against Penrith, in which time he made 10 runs for 71 metres.
The Cowboys' 59 percent completion rate played a part in those low numbers, however, Taumalolo's effort areas were also questioned by Payten.
"I don't care the type of flak I'm going to cop about that," Payten said of Taumalolo's minutes.
Match Highlights: Panthers v Cowboys
"Jase is contracted here for seven years. If we cook him, 65-75 minutes a game, in 3-4 years, what value are we going to get out of him?
"This is a long-term decision about Jase's health and my ambition to hold onto the job, I guess."
Payten pinpointed a lack of kick-chase pressure by Taumalolo late in the contest when Nathan Cleary launched the bomb which resulted in a try to Isaah Yeo.
"They're the effort areas that I'm talking about, him improving to be the best forward in the game," Payten said.
Payten doubles down on Taumalolo strategy
"For anyone to stay on the park in the middle of the field as Jase does, they're going to cut corners somewhere and it comes in your defensive movements.
"Your retreat speed, your line speed, and if we let Jase get away with that, the young forwards that we have in our club will think that's the way he defends.
"It's not a decision around Jase. It's more a decision around the way we want to defend as a unit, particularly in the middle of the park.
"That's not just on him, there are some other players in the middle of the park that need to move better."
Payten rotated Taumalolo with veteran Josh McGuire throughout the contest, while he also opted for Reuben Cotter and Jake Granville on the bench.
Cotter was picked in the side to play a lock role with Granville replacing Reece Robson but the reshuffle failed to pay off as the Cowboys were outclassed by last year's minor premiers,
"It was tough to watch, we didn't put ourselves in the game at any stage," Payten said.
"I thought we showed glimpses of where we competed hard defensively, especially the first half.
Martin wins the kick contest and Yeo ends up with a try
"They had 100 more plays with the ball and that was our own fault. Where and how we're making our errors is a little bit concerning.
"I'm not sure if we have to do any tackle practice this week because we did plenty tonight.
"If we played the way we did tonight in terms of ball security we don't beat anyone... I can't sugar coat it anyway, it was ordinary."
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