North Queensland halfback Chad Townsend says Todd Payten should “hands down” be the front-runner to win the coach of the year award ahead of the side’s clash with Cronulla on Saturday night.
Many are predicting the Dally M accolade, announced on September 28, will come down to Payten and Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon, who have both guided their sides to top four finishes this season.
The pair played together at the Roosters in 2003 and despite being in their NRL head coaching infancy, have impressed alongside the likes of Ivan Cleary, Trent Robinson and Craig Bellamy.
However, Townsend said the turnaround of the Cowboys from last year, where they finished 15th under Payten in his maiden coaching campaign, should outweigh any other coach in the game.
“He’s hands down coach of the year,” Townsend told NRL.com.
“You look at what he’s done to take our side from second last to third. The start of the year a lot of people wrote us off and tipped us for the wooden spoon.
“If anything that motivated us as players but I’m sure it did the coaching staff too and I can’t speak highly enough of Todd and the guys around him for getting us to where we are.
“In my eyes he’s definitely coach of the year and I think it would be a great reward for our squad and the consistency we’ve had all season.”
Sharks captain Wade Graham said Fitzgibbon’s effect on the group at the club was immediate, along with the astute recruitment strategy the club put in place last year ahead of this season.
Fitzgibbon managed to lure former Storm stars Nicho Hynes and Dale Finucane to the club while Cameron McInnes was already signed prior to the coach’s arrival.
All three and the coach have excelled in the Shire and have helped turn the Sharks into a genuine premiership force again.
"He's certainly been enormous for us, I think just from the moment he walked in, he came with a confidence and clarity that has certainly rubbed off on all the players,” Graham said.
“He's an easy guy to go to work for, you know exactly where you stand with him and what he expects of you and he's a tremendous character.
“I think if he was to get coach of the year, it would certainly be thoroughly deserved.”
Match: Sharks v Cowboys
Finals Week 1 -
Venue: PointsBet Stadium, Sydney