Payten was a popular pick in the pre-season as the NRL's most under-pressure coach after a calamitous maiden season at the helm up north resulting in a 15th-place finish for the season, as well as rumours of player disrupt circling.
Flash forward a year and the Cowboys are 80 minutes away from their third Grand Final appearance in eight seasons, and a freshly-printed contract is sitting on the table for their young coach.
The Courier Mail is reporting that Payten is set to re-sign with the Cowboys on a three-year deal worth at least $2 million, locking the former Warriors coach up in Townsville until at least the end of the 2026 season.
Payten has skyrocketed into favouritism for the Dally M Coach of the Year award, with Ivan Cleary missing a number of Penrith games due to blood clots while the shine on Craig Fitzgibbon's maiden season has been wiped after a straight-sets finals exit.
The 43 year-old is under contract through to the end of next year, however the club is aiming to lock the coach up before he can begin conversations with rival clubs.
Payten wouldn't confirm the new deal, but did reveal the club and himself were deep in discussions, the confirmation likely to come in the weeks following North Queensland's final game, whether it be this weekend or next.
“We have started conversations (on a new deal) and it will get done when it’s done,” Payten told The Courier Mail.
“The Cowboys know I don’t want to go and I have told them the same, so we will work something out.
“I love coaching this club.
“I fell in love with the town and the club very quickly the first time around.
“The Cowboys are full of good people. The club is so professional, it’s a region where rugby league means something and the people of north Queensland are my kind of people.
“I’m a rugby league person through and through and so are they.”
Cowboys chairman Lewis Ramsay uttered the same sentiment.
“He is signed until the end of next year and absolutely we would hope to retain him,” Ramsay said.
“We will get into that stuff in the right sequence.
“I wouldn’t say it was all smooth sailing. Todd had some difficult periods last year where he will admit he questioned himself.
“But there was a general belief that what we had here would bear results.
“He had the vision around strategy.
“He has an ability to find talent and diamonds amongst the rough. He has an innate ability to identify those players that can become something and helps them believe in themselves.
“He is only a young coach but has a very distinguished career ahead of him.”
Their key difference?
Arthur has been trying to get here for eight years now. Payten has done it in two.
The club is expected to confirm the retention news within the month as North Queensland, and Payten, set their eyes firmly on the Parramatta Eels this Friday night.