Cowboys coach Todd Payten has no regrets at crack at $10m Kiwi Jason Taumalolo

Cowboys coach Todd Payten is unrepentant after taking a crack at his $10 million man -former NRL player of the year Jason Taumalolo.

Payten - who made his mark last year as the Warriors' interim head coach - criticised Taumalolo's lack of defensive pressure in the Cowboys' first round defeat to Penrith.

Taumalolo - a New Zealand-born Tonga test star on a 10-year deal at North Queensland worth $1 million a season - made 10 runs for 71 metres, but Payten felt his superstar middle forward should have put more pressure on Nathan Cleary's kick that led to a try for Isaah Yeo.

"They're the effort areas that I'm talking about, him improving to be the best forward in the game," Payten said at a media conference after last Saturday’s 24-0 loss.

"For anyone to stay on the park in the middle of the field as Jase does, they're going to cut corners somewhere, and it comes in your defensive movements.

"Your retreat speed, your line speed, and if we let Jase get away with that, the young forwards that we have in our club will think that's the way he defends.''

Taumalolo played just 51 minutes, but Payten made no apologies for benching his big man.

"I don't care the type of flak I'm going to cop about that," he said.

"Jase is contracted here for [another] seven years. If we cook him, 65-75 minutes a game, in three to four years, what value are we going to get out of him?

"This is a long-term decision about Jase's health and my ambition to hold onto the job, I guess."

Former Broncos NRL star Gorden Tallis questioned Payten's criticism of Taumalolo, saying he did not think "it was a poor performance'' by the 27-year-old.

"To pick on your big guy so early in the season, they normally take a month or so, they take about a month to get their fitness,'' Tallis told Triple M Radio.

“You don’t pick on them in Round 1. I know he was trying to get the message to everybody, but I reckon you do it behind closed doors, and if it happens in six weeks’ time, and you pull them off [the field] then you’ve got some stats behind you.

Tallis said Taumalolo had been the Cowboys' best player, "their heart and soul'' for the last three years. "I don’t think you pick a fight with him this early.”

But Payten told reporters in Townsville on Tuesday that there was no issue between him and Taumalolo.

"I've known him for seven years," Payten said on

"I had constant dialogue with him over the last few days. He knows he can be honest with me too. It's a two-way street and things are fine."

Payten said his comments had been "well-received'' by his team.

"They know how I operate; I'm pretty black-and-white," he said.

"It's not something that came out of the blue; it's been consistent feedback for our whole group, not just from me but from all our coaching staff. I expect us to respond with a good performance [against the Dragons this weekend].''

Auckland-born Taumalolo is expected to make his 200th NRL appearance for the Cowboys in round three.