They lost Willie Tonga to the Parramatta Eels and now the North Queensland Cowboys are facing an even bigger battle to keep one of the game’s emerging stars from the clutches of the big-spending Eels.
Teenage forward Jason Taumalolo — earmarked as a star after winning the Players Association’s Toyota Cup player of the year award last year — is off contract at the end of this season and in the sights of Parramatta coach Stephen Kearney.
It’s not the only tug of war involving Taumalolo. It is believed the 18-year-old, who was born in Auckland and played for the Junior Kiwis last year, is weighing up whether to commit to New Zealand or Australia.
Taumololo moved to Townsville as a 13-year-old and played Queensland and Australian schoolboys.
North Queensland football manager Peter Parr said he was aware of offers from rival clubs but was optimistic the Cowboys could retain a player they hope will form the cornerstone of their forward pack with Tariq Sims for the next decade.
“We want to keep him,” Parr said. “We have had him in our system for a long time. We have done all the right things by him. He’s telling us he is comfortable and, all things being equal, he wants to stay.”
The problem for the Cowboys is that all things aren’t necessarily equal, particularly where money is involved.
“What we can’t control is the size of the offer he might get from elsewhere,” Parr said.
The Eels have spent significantly over the past six months, on occasion at the expense of the Cowboys. As well as signing halfback Chris Sandow to a deal, Parramatta lured Tonga from the Cowboys. The club has also made a long-term commitment in Manly back Will Hopoate, who is carrying out his Mormon mission.