They have been the comeback kings of the 2015 NRL Telstra Premiership but Cowboys coach Paul Green said his team were given a lesson in the small margins in which finals matches are decided against the Broncos on Saturday night.
The Cowboys dominated territory in the first half in particular and enjoyed 53 per cent of possession for the entire game but were left to rue two missed opportunities in the first half in the wake of their 16-12 defeat.
Ethan Lowe had the ball jolted free by a desperate Corey Parker tackle when he appeared certain to score late in the first half before winger Kyle Feldt failed to get the ball down inside the corner post on one of the rare occasions he got outside the steely Broncos defence.
For 26 weeks of the year they may not prove to be costly but Green said it was all there was between a direct path to the preliminary finals and having to back up next week in sudden-death.
"We got a taste of what big-game footy is like," Green said post-game.
"It's been a while since we've been in that pressure-cooker type game. We've played some good sides but we probably weren't at our best on those occasions.
"We dead-set bombed two tries in the first half and in a tight game against quality opposition, if you bomb a couple of opportunities like that and still get away with a win you're very lucky.
"Tonight there was only four points in it and that could have been the difference. Our execution was only just off but just off is enough to get beaten in a game like that."
Despite being unable to crack the seemingly impregnable Broncos defence until six minutes into the second half, Cowboys co-captain Matthew Scott said the disappointment of their bombed chances didn't set in until they tried to come to terms with their defeat.
"We're frustrated more now than we were in the game," Scott said.
"Our attitude was pretty good on the back of those errors. We know we can score points when we execute well and we knew there was plenty of time left in the game.
"The Broncos defended really well, they always do, so unfortunately we couldn't make up for those two tries but I thought we reacted well off the back of it."
While acknowledging that hooker Jake Granville was down on what he has produced throughout the season and that Michael Morgan would be better next week after his first game in three weeks, Green praised his players for the way they fought until the very last play of the game.
"The first thing I said to the boys after the game was that I was very proud of their effort. In the tough parts of the game I thought we competed very well," Green said.
"That was a high quality match with two very good teams but I did say to them that we were just off.
"They had to play very well to beat us, there was four points in it and we blew two tries in the first half.
"We were only just off but in a big game like that if you are just off generally you don't win."