Devastated Cowboys players say the hardest thing about Friday night's heart-breaking 31-30 semi-final loss to the Roosters is the fact that some of their closest mates will be leaving the club on that note.
With veteran centre Brent Tate forced to hang up the boots mid-year following a fourth ruptured ACL, Ashton Sims heading to the UK, his brother Tariq joining fellow Sims Korbin at Newcastle, 33-year-old Glenn Hall not signed for next year and young Curtis Rona headed for the Bulldogs, players were shattered at the way their teammates would be leaving the club.
"It is really sad mate, not only are we losing great footy players, we're losing mates," prop James Tamou told NRL.com.
"First of all Tatey retiring is a huge loss, not only on the football field but off the field, his presence, his voice, he's a leader amongst us. The Sims boys, obviously big boppers on the field and really get amongst it, they'll be sorely missed.
"I'm really confident when I have those two beside me, they've showed what they can do throughout the year. Especially Tariq, I think he's a future rep player."
Five-eighth Robert Lui was just as downcast.
"We're down mate, we're really down," he told NRL.com.
"We really can't blame anyone but ourselves. We're down because we've played alongside some good mates, good people that are moving on – Ashton Sims, Tariq Sims, Glenn Hall, Curtis Rona, a few people that are moving on and it hurts because they really become your family and your brother.
"We put ourselves in [that situation] tonight but we came back, that's the good thing about the boys.
"Paul Green and the coaching staff really put that in there with us. We knew we could win the game – we were 30-0 down but anything could happen.
"We thought we had the momentum – we came out and scored a few tries, it became 30-all, we just believed in ourselves, played until the dying minute but it didn't go our way. Credit to the Roosters, they won the game."
Even down 31-30 inside the last minute, the Cowboys had a chance to win when winger Kyle Feldt, in open space, threw the ball back infield where the ball brushed Lui's arm before hitting the turf. Halfback Johnathan Thurston raced onto the loose ball and sprinted away to score but it was ruled Lui had knocked the ball on.
The call was contentious – there was a case that the ball went back off Lui's arm – but the decision was anything but clear cut. After Thurston and coach Paul Green refused to blame the officals in the post-match press conference, Lui was also reluctant to blame the referees.
"Personally I thought it went backwards but the refs didn't and that's their call, I don't want to go into that. That's just the call. Roosters won the game and good luck to them," he said.
Instead Lui preferred to turn the focus to the positive signs ahead of 2015.
"It's very important [to start next year well]. This is going to burn and give us fuel for next year. We don't want to feel like this ever again."