Todd Payten has praised the resilience of North Queensland's Gen Next as Josh McGuire's looming move to the Dragons continues the club's rapid changing of the guard.
Payten's side finished with several players battling through injury and playing out of position in their thrilling 34-30 defeat of Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday, the new coach's first victory since returning to Townsville as head coach.
McGuire spent 36 hours in hospital due to an elbow infection and missed the match, and could well have played his final game for the club before an expected reunion with Anthony Griffin at St George Illawarra.
NRL.com understands the final terms of a release for McGuire are close to being signed off with the Cowboys to pay a decent portion of his remaining 2021 salary.
Following on from Michael Morgan's medical retirement on Friday, the ongoing roster overhaul at North Queensland puts the club's emerging talent in the spotlight.
The likes of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Murray Taulagi, Reuben Cotter and Scott Drinkwater all applauded by Payten after the Tigers upset, which came on the back of a stunning 28-6 first-half lead.
It is all coming up Cowboys at Leichhardt Oval
Above all though, the coach was most pleased with the ability to hang tough for the club's first win at a hostile Leichhardt Oval in nine attempts going back to 2000.
"We had a couple of guys out of position again – [reserve hooker] Jake Granville finished the game in the centres, [No.9] Reece Robson defended as right back-rower, we had Connelly Lemuelu busted with a shoulder finished the game," Payten said.
"We hung in there enough. I think we showed enough [character].
Tabuai-Fidow silences the Leichhardt crowd early
"We have still got a long way to go, but getting the monkey off the back as such. It was certainly a different changeroom, and something I haven’t experienced in quite a while.
"In that regard, that part was enjoyable."
"I’m just happy that we got away with it. That last 20-25 minutes seemed to go for a bloody long time. That’s a good lesson for us today – if we play the right way, we can score points in the first half.
"If we keep doing some silly stuff with our decisions, it will put us under pressure. It ended up the way it ended up because of some of our stuff."
Tabua-Fidow hobbled off with an ankle injury late in the contest with Payten conceding he was in extreme doubt for next Sunday's clash against the Bulldogs.
Jason Taumalolo is a certain starter to return from a broken hand, while Payten hopes to have McGuire's future sorted by the time the Cowboys host a rare Sunday afternoon fixture in Townsville as well.
Drinkwater especially impressed against the Tigers, finishing with one try and two assists to put down an early marker for a permanent halves spot now Morgan has officially bowed out.
Drinkwater with an epic solo effort
"I thought Scotty had a strong game," Payten said.
"[The] past couple of years he is always involved or in and around our points.
"Our development with Scott and our spine is playing the game the right way, building pressure and all that stuff. We've only just put pressure on ourselves in the first four weeks."