NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler says he would tweak one aspect of Jason Taumalolo’s game to have him on the field “as much as possible”, in the wake of Cowboys coach Todd Payten’s public clip of his superstar forward.
Payten followed his first match in charge of North Queensland, a poor 24-0 loss against Penrith on Saturday, with a strong critique of Taumalolo “cutting corners” in defence.
It caused a significant stir among Cowboys fans, particularly in light of Payten’s bid to restrict Taumalolo’s minutes in 2021 in a bid to preserve his longevity.
Fittler believed Payten was justified in making bold decisions as head coach of an NRL franchise but questioned whether the conversation around Taumalolo’s performance could have been more appropriately handled.
NRL Pressers: Payten lashes Taumalolo in feisty press conference
“The one thing as a coach is that you’ve got to back yourself, you’ve got to go in with a belief,” Fittler told Wide World of Sports’ The Final Whistle. “He thought that Jason Taumalolo, even though it’s round one, that his performance was not up to scratch.
“It’s the words afterwards though, highlighting how he’s feeling about his game. Whether you feel like maybe that should be left to somewhere private. It’s game one, and with Jason Taumalolo’s stature, he’s really made a big statement Todd Payten.”
There isn’t a more damaging forward in the NRL than Taumalolo when he’s on song, and that presence was sorely missed at Panthers Stadium on Saturday night after the forward was hooked from the field in the 27th minute only to return in 57th with his side already well behind.
In all Taumalolo featured for just 50 minutes, a significant reduction on his usual game time in which he ran for just 71 metres; after averaging more than 200 metres per game last season.
Payten has made no secret of his concern over burning Taumalolo (who still has seven years left on his contract in North Queensland) out with lengthy minutes but Fittler feels there are better ways to manage the club’s marquee player.
“Teach him to pass,” Fittler said.
“There’s plenty of lock-forwards playing big minutes every game. If you teach him to pass, you get some footy off him. Every time he runs the ball people are coming in.
“I’d be having him on the field as much as possible.”