North Queensland coach Paul Green says his team is mentally stronger than last season, highlighting repeated efforts on the goal line in their thumping shutout of the Dragons in Townsville.
The visitors had their share of scoring chances throughout the 80 minutes but were sent back time and again by an unforgiving Cowboys line.
With strike power coming from all angles the Cowboys of recent years have never had an issue scoring, but their defensive focus has drifted in and out of games, including throughout their 2015 premiership year.
This year appears to be different, with a renewed commitment to defence, resulting in two shutouts within the first five rounds – something they did just once all of last season – and boosting their for-and-against (+77) to the highest so far in the NRL.
"It's a big effort to keep any team to zero in this comp, so I'm really pleased with that side of our game at the moment," Green said post-game.
"We just moved well and tackled well. There were a couple of times there when they did start to get a roll on but we did hold our nerve.
"We were also asked to defend back-to-back sets multiple times in that first half, and I reckon last year we probably would have leaked points under those conditions.
"The boys are certainly working hard for each other in that area of the game and they're doing a good job at the moment.
"It showed desperation, despite the score line, to make sure no one crossed our line.
The Cowboys staved off points from three goal-line dropouts throughout the game, and forced the Dragons into 14 errors for a 56 per cent completion rate.
When asked for an appraisal of his side's form after five rounds, Green added: "We can be better in some areas; probably some of the areas that were our strengths as a team last year.
"The good thing is where we need to improve, it's not that difficult to improve. It's a little bit of concentration and a little bit of execution, but the tough parts of our game we are competing well.
Co-captain Matt Scott later echoed Green's approach when quizzed on the topic.
"We're in pretty good shape but there are a few areas we need to improve on," he said.
"I still think completion rates have got to be a little bit better.
"Defensively, there are still a few areas around the ruck that we need to improve."