North Queensland Cowboys coach Todd Payten answers Laurie Spina’s phone call during press conference

Cowboys manager Todd Payten is a tough customer, but this unexpected phone call made the retired rugby league hardman smile.

North Queensland Cowboys manager Todd Payten was all smiles when a phone call from club inaugural captain Laurie Spina interrupted his post-game press conference on Saturday night.

Payten was facing his team’s 36-16 win over the Newcastle Knights when the unexpected call came.

“(It’s) great, bad Laurie Spina,” the usually steely coach said with a smile.

Payten picked up the phone half-press, much to the amusement of the media in the room.

“Hey Loz, we’re busy man,” Payten told Spina, “Give me five minutes, okay? Okay. See you, mate.”

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Spina captained the Cowboys in 1995, their first year in the NRL (then known as ARL), but retired at the end of that season.

He became involved in rugby league in North Queensland and his son Ben played 16 games for the Cowboys during Paul Green’s tenure as head coach.

Saturday night’s win was North Queensland’s fourth straight but, despite the result, Payten said the bunker left him frustrated by overturning a try in the second half.

Cowboys captain Jason Taumalolo crashed in the 65th minute but the bunker canceled the four-point shot, establishing young gun Jeremiah Nanai had hampered Newcastle’s Lachlan Fitzgibbon in the game.

Under the NRL rules, a decoy runner must not run to a defender’s chest or outer shoulder and initiate contact.

But Payten said Fitzgibbon made the defensive decision to step out of line and target Nanai, which is not an obstruction.

“The language used by the bunker was confusing, to say that Jeremiah initiated contact,” Payten said.

“It was Fitzgibbon who got stuck from outside to inside and made contact with (Nanai’s) inner shoulder and deviated three or four meters from the line. This is why I am so confused.

“I’m really disappointed once again that (the proof) has been taken away from us. He is constantly governed inconsistently.

“It’s different from game to game. This is what I don’t like. “

Payten’s comments came after Ricky Stuart accused the bunker of “damaging the fabric” of rugby league with its inability to make correct decisions.

In his second season at North Queensland, Payten appears firmly in the running for the honors of Dally M Coach of the Year; the Cowboys were supposed to fight in 2022, but Payten had them in the top four after nine rounds.

He unlocked Taumalolo after criticism for how he used the team’s lead player in 2021 and is also making the most of new rookie Chad Townsend, who made his 200th NRL appearance on Saturday night.

In nine rounds, the Cowboys have conceded just three points more than reigning Premier Penrith and are starting to shoot offensively as well, scoring over 30 points in each of their last three games.

However, the Cowboys await significant tests; later in May, for the first time this season, they will face both Melbourne and Penrith.

Originally published as “We’re busy man”: the hilarious phone call from the coach midway through the press conference