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Payten outlines Cowboys NRL priority

·2-min read

North Queensland coach Todd Payten admits replacing the retired Michael Morgan is top of the club's list of priorities as speculation grows that Cronulla's Chad Townsend is set to join the club.

With the Cowboys seeking to replace the influential Morgan - who called quits on his career for medical reasons earlier this month - and Newcastle-bound Jake Clifford, Payten outlined the qualities required of any new signing.

"I've been pretty clear about our position as a club," he said.

"We need an organising half and that's the first piece of the puzzle with our recruitment.

"We want that player to be a good person, we need him to be professional, and we need him to have the ability to come in and teach our young halves and the rest of our squad how to play the game the right way.

"I understand the interest around it but I'm not making public comment until we have something official."

News Corp has reported that the 30-year-old Townsend has verbally agreed to a three-year, $2 million deal with the Cowboys - who are struggling again in 2021 having missed the finals the past three seasons.

A premiership winner with Cronulla in 2016, Townsend is set to hold talks on Tuesday with incoming Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon, who will need to pitch a compelling argument to retain the services of the No.7 after the Cowboys' lucrative offer.

With Scott Drinkwater off contract at the end of this year, the Cowboys have also been linked with a swoop for 20-year-old Tom Dearden from Brisbane.

"I'm interested in all players that'll make us a better club," Payten said when asked about the young Broncos half.

"The more clarity we can get around what direction we're heading in as a club, the further the next pieces will fall into place.

"I'd like it to happen quickly but understand it may not."

North Queensland are prepared to open their cheque book with Morgan forced to quit and 23-year-old five-eighth Clifford signing a deal to join the Knights at season's end.

The Cowboys intend to sign Townsend using the money saved through the medical retirement of Morgan, who will receive a reported $2.5 million contract payout from the remainder of his five-year deal with the club.