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No stone unturned as Payten demands peak performance

When it comes to straight shooters, they don't come much more direct than Cowboys coach Todd Payten, so when he tells his players to get comfortable being uncomfortable you can rest assured a fifth consecutive season out of the finals simply won't be tolerated.

A premiership winner as a player at Wests Tigers in 2005 and an assistant coach to Paul Green when the Cowboys won their maiden title in 2015, Payten knows what it takes to get to the top, and he'll leave no stone unturned in his bid to scale those heights again.

If that means dragging players out of bed before sunrise to train or sending them on torturous hill climbs to drag them out of their comfort zone, then so be it.

"We've got some different tactics to put them under pressure every day and basically we are getting them to do things they don’t really like and doing it more often," Payten said.

"We are getting them on the park at 6am which means they are up at 4.30am. Some of our guys like to sleep a lot and it’s just around time management. Part of that is to beat the heat but it 's just to make them uncomfortable from the get-go.

Payten: Holmes attacking centre position with fervour

"We're doing some contact sessions, they're tackling each other twice a day, three times a week which is a physical and mental challenge. We've thrown some curve balls at them, we've gone up the hill."

The hill to which the coach refers is famed Townsville landmark Castle Hill, a mecca for tourists with its picture postcard 360-degree views from its peak but a punish for Cowboys players sent to scale it during torturous pre-season sessions.

As preparations cranked up for a pivotal season in the club's history, Payten had his men do the hill not once, not twice but three times, each with its own significance and distinct goals in mind.

"The first time we did it was our first day back at pre-season and everyone attacked it," Payten said.

"It was almost like a metaphor, we are starting from the bottom of the hill, we were second last in 2021, this is us, there’s a mountain we have to climb so let’s go and attack it. They hit that pretty well and made some good times.

"The second time a couple of weeks later the challenge was to beat their time from the first one. Some guys once I told them the news were almost defeated about going up the hill again and some other guys who listened to the little voice inside their head saying how hard it was going up the hill but some other guys did really well.

Taulagi relishing Hiku's influence

"The third one was our last session of the year just before Chrisrmas after an opposed session and I thought they handled that really well. They were laughing and took it on and we had some guys beat their record after running 5km out on the park so I was really impressed with how they have grown and handled different challenges along the way."

With Heartbreak Hill well and truly in the rear vision mirror, the Cowboys' attention is now on building combinations and devising a game plan to lift themselves out of the cellar after a 7-17 record consigned them to 14th spot in Payten's first season in charge.

A new-look backline will feature Valentine Holmes at centre, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow at fullback and premiership-winning playmaker Chad Townsend in the No.7 jersey, and all three men have impressed Payten with their commitment and drive during pre-season.

"Chad is an out and out professional and he has enhanced our capabilities with his talk and direction," Payten said.

"He's a good voice for all the group, not just the halves. He has added a bit of class and leadership and experience so it has been good to watch.

Hess praises influence of Townsend

"Chad is driven on and off the park. He is well rounded and worldly and I think other guys can learn from watching how he does things.

"Hamiso has spent every session that he has been fit on the park at fullback and Val has spent pretty much every session at centre.

"Both of those guys' attitude has been terrific and Val’s work ethic and professionalism has been a pleasure to watch. He has dived in head first to learning a new position and he’s improving so I’m excited about what he can offer is a club and as a team.

"Val's at his physical peak after two years back in the game. He’s adjusted from a physical stand point, he’s feeling more comfortable in his body and his work ethic has been first class."

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