It is the flat patch in form that could derail the Cowboys’ top two aspirations.
While the alarm bells aren’t ringing in Townsville just yet, back-to-back losses have revealed the North Queensland club has dipped well below its best form heading towards the NRL finals.
Wins against Parramatta and Canberra papered over the cracks that the club was not firing all cylinders.
The 46-4 thrashing of the Eels was almost exclusively a second half hatchet job, with the Cowboys dropping the ball 13 times and struggling to find fluency in the first 40.
It got a lot worse against the Raiders, staring down the barrel of an 18-0 deficit before rallying in the second 40 minutes to steal the match.
But against quality, top eight opposition in the Sharks and the Rabbitohs, the Cowboys have been outclassed.
North Queensland has a relatively soft run to the finals, including matches against the Shaun Johnson-less Warriors and the lowly Gold Coast Titans, and the club could still press into the top four without a significant lift.
But if the Cowboys keep playing like they have for the past month, premiership glory could be beyond them.
Co-captain Matt Scott, returning from a break following the Origin period, insists the 31-18 loss to the Rabbitohs is a step in the right direction.
“I think we had a bit of a wake up call last week against the Sharks (in a 30-18 loss),” he said. “(The match against Souths) was a step in the right direction.
“We probably lost the middle third towards the back end of the (second) half, but the damage was done early in the game.
“We just expended too much energy and didn’t get the rewards from it. We’re probably on right track if we fix up a few areas. Then we will have more energy in our defence in our middle third of the field.”
Fullback Lachlan Coote, who has had a wretched run of injuries, had the Cowboys fans nervous as he went down late in the game clutching at the knee he has reconstructed twice.
But coach Paul Green said he didn’t expect the injury to cost the custodian any weeks on the sideline.
“I think he just got his knee twisted a bit, given his injury history he is probably bit more … worried,” he said. “But I think he’s all right.”