Todd Payten insists he has a strong relationship with star player Jason Taumalolo, despite openly criticising the former Kiwis star last week.
The North Queensland Cowboys were hammered 24-0 in their 2021 NRL opener against the Penrith Panthers.
Payten used Taumalolo sparingly in the contest, restricting one of the most devastating runners in the game to 51 minutes of play.
The former interim NZ Warriors coach gave a frank assessment of Taumalolo's "defensive movements", highlighting what he perceived as a lack of awareness and said he won't accept the 27-year-old "cutting corners" on defence.
Several NRL pundits have questioned Payten's handling of the Cowboys' best player, both on and off the pitch, but the coach was steadfast on Tuesday, downplaying any breakdown in communication between the two.
"I've known him [Taumalolo] for seven years," Payten said.
"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 believes his players got the message, and has named an unchanged squad for the clash against St George Illawarra Dragons this weekend.
"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."
Payten is hopeful a return to North Queensland will bring a better performance from his players as they look to jump-start their campaign.
"There's an opportunity to play at home in front of our members and supporters and do them justice.
"Across the board, we weren't great, so I couldn't just drop one or two. They were hurting and everyone's keen. With the way that we trained today, there was a real attention to detail."