Cowboy Drinkwater no longer a gunslinger: Coach Payten

Joel Gould |

North Queensland fullback Scott Drinkwater has started the season in brilliant fashion.
North Queensland fullback Scott Drinkwater has started the season in brilliant fashion.

North Queensland fullback Scott Drinkwater has become one of the game’s most influential custodians under Todd Payten, who says the 26-year-old’s growth isn’t by chance.

Payten took over at the club in 2021 when Drinkwater was a precocious talent who backed himself to the hilt but his decision making didn’t always hit the mark.

Drinkwater still chances his arm but when he does the team benefits more often than not.

“I have seen him mature in the past couple of years. The first 12 months he was a gunslinger,” Payten told AAP ahead of Friday night’s away clash with Brisbane.

“Nothing really fazed him and he could move past things pretty quickly still. Now I see the desire from him to get better and the team to get better with the way he trains, and the speeds and intensity that he trains at. 

“Day-after-day he is a great example to the rest of our guys. He covers a lot of ground at fullback and doesn’t miss a session.”

Drinkwater was superb in the undefeated Cowboys’ 46-24 comeback win over St George Illawarra on Saturday but his reflections on the match showed where his head is at.

“I probably threw two offloads in the second half which led to errors from us when we had momentum, so I probably didn’t need to push them,” he said.

“That is what you are going to get from me at times, and makes me the player I am. I back my instinct and live by the sword and die by the sword at times.

“If I can rein that in a little bit that would be good for us. Obviously those offloads weren’t necessary and (halfback) Chad (Townsend) gave me a gobful after the second one. It is all about understanding what we need.”

Drinkwater’s capacity for honest self reflection is one of his endearing traits. The fact remains his two try assists and try in the Dragons win outweighed any negatives in his game. 

It is Payten’s advice that still rings in his ears.

“I have always had confidence no matter who my coach has been, but Todd is the one making me a better player and helping me make better decisions,” he said.

“That is probably the biggest thing he has done for me. I am trying to be a smarter footballer.”

Drinkwater wouldn’t be the player he is without taking calculated risks. Mostly they pay off, which is why he was the club’s player of the year in 2023 after 25 try assists, 14 line breaks and 11 tries. It is why he was NSW’s 18th man in the last game of the 2023 State of Origin series. He has also added a dimension to his play that people don’t see.

“Most of our good stuff comes in and around Drinky, there’s no doubt about that,” Payten said.

“I have also seen him get on the training field when he is a little bit busted and take the field for us on the weekend when he is busted. 

“That is part of the development of a lot of young players when they are hurt or injured. He has worked that out and is really important to us.”