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Townsend fits the bill as Payten searches for veteran savvy at half

Cowboys coach Todd Payten has confirmed his priority is signing an experienced halfback with Cronulla’s Chad Townsend linked to a move to North Queensland next season. 

Payten confirmed South Sydney captain Adam Reynolds was “on the radar” but Townsend may also be available as he has an option in his Sharks contract enabling him to decide before round 13 whether he wants to remain at the club for up to two more seasons. 

The Cowboys have also been in talks with rookie Brisbane halfback Tom Dearden as a replacement for Newcastle-bound Jake Clifford but Payten said his top priority was to sign an experienced playmaker.

"I think you have got to look at all options but where we are as a club we need out and out first-grader that can have an immediate impact on our group and on our playing style," Payten told SEN on Monday

"We are looking for good humans that are in a position that can teach our really gifted young kids coming through our system.

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"That is probably the benchmark that we are at as a halfback and a number of other positions we are looking to fill in the next four to eight weeks."

North Queensland five-eighth Scott Drinkwater is also a free agent at season's end and has had his preliminary extension talks put on hold since the start of the season, when rival clubs including the Warriors flagged initial interest in him.

He told last week he is keen to re-sign and he wanted to remain in the halves after starting the season at fullback while Valentine Holmes was used on the wing.

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Signing a halfback was "the first piece of the puzzle we need to get right" and Payten said the Cowboys were casting their net wide to find the right player. 

"We will be linked to all and sundry, I imagine, over the next week or two," he said. 

Townsend is contracted to Cronulla until 2023 but has an option clause he can exercise each 12 months and recently told he intended to wait until round 13 to make a call on next season. 

However, the abrupt end Sharks coach John Morris's tenure last week may prompt him to make an earlier decision and he is set to meet with incoming Cronulla mentor Craig Fitzgibbon in coming days. 

North Queensland’s pursuit of an experienced halfback is set to have an impact on the player transfer market, while Wests Tigers have confirmed the return of Jackson Hastings from Wigan next season. 

Hastings, who has previously played for Sydney Roosters and Manly, won the 2019 Man of Steel award as the Super League player of the year and represented Great Britain on the end-of-season Lions tour. 

The Tigers insist the signing of Hastings will have no impact on the future of Luke Brooks at the club but Billy Walters is likely to leave to join his father Kevin at the Broncos. 

Sharks playmakers Shaun Johnson and Matt Moylan are also off contract at the end of the season, along with St George Illawarra five-eighth Corey Norman and Brisbane’s Anthony Milford.


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