NRL Rd 3 - Broncos v Cowboys
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 27: Jeremiah Nanai of the Cowboys (L) is tackled by Herbie Farnworth of the Broncos during the round three NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the North Queensland Cowboys at Suncorp Stadium, on March 27, 2022, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Dan Peled/Getty Images)

North Queensland Cowboys coach Todd Payten is "cautiously optimistic" about retaining the services of boom youngster Jeremiah Nanai.

The New Zealand-born 19-year-old, who is now being dragged into not only a contract battle, but a representative eligibility one, put together the best performance of his career during Sunday's big win over the Brisbane Broncos.

Nanai would score a hat-trick during the contest, running for well over 100 metres as he ran riot against the edge defence of the club's Queensland rivals.

Nanai is off-contract at the end of the season though, and reports have heavily suggested the Wests Tigers are going after the youngster, who could be in contention as a State of Origin bolter this year, should he elect to be eligible for Queensland and Australia instead of New Zealand.

Coach Payten though, discussing the seven-game rookie, said the Cowboys are the right club for Nanai during his post-game press conference.

“We have had conversations with his management and his management have asked us to hold off until Round 6 and we are just fulfilling their wishes,” Payten told reporters.

“I’m cautiously optimistic about us keeping him.

“I know that this is the right club for him.

“He is a club junior and this is why the Cowboys were put in the competition to give a pathway for our kids in North Queensland to play NRL.

“Fingers crossed we can work something out.”

It's unclear if any other clubs outside of the Tigers are going after Nanai, however, given the movement and speculation around other second-rowers, including Briton Nikora, Jack Bird, Ryan Matterson and the already moving Isaiah Papali'i and Luciano Leilua, it would hardly come as a surprise.

The Tigers have lost Leilua, however, have signed Papali'i, and are rumoured to be in the race for Nikora as well as Nanai, with Tim Sheens and Michael Maguire looking to turn the club around.