North Queensland coach Paul Green was under no illusion the unavailability of the Cowboys' five State of Origin representatives was the difference in their 14-10 loss to the Dragons on Saturday night.
The Cowboys were without co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott as well as Justin O'Neill, James Tamou and Michael Morgan who will all play Origin I this Wednesday.
Ultimately proud of his side's effort, Green said the lack of cohesion and fluency amongst the team as a whole proved costly at opportune moments.
Green refused to point the finger at any particular players despite earlier pointing out specifically that he wasn't pleased by makeshift five-eighth Lachlan Coote's performance.
"Across the board, the hardest thing is the players we lost play key positions in our team. It's very difficult to build up those combinations again and to know where to be and what plays we need to put on at different times," Green said post-game.
"We had our chances in good field position with penalties and scrums but our attack just wasn't as fluent. It wasn't Cootie's fault. I'm not blaming any individual. I just think it shows when you take that many key players out.
"It's very difficult to be as fluent as what we normally are. That was the problem there. We had opportunities but just weren't quite good enough to turn them into points."
Green did not want to discuss Javid Bowen's no-try in the 10th minute.
The bunker reversed the on-field referees' initial decision of try when it ruled Coote had knocked the ball out from Tyson Frizell's hands rather than it being the Dragons back-rower's error, which was cause for Bowen to race 60 metres to score.
"You can talk about individual moments in the game but we had our chances there. The way we started the second half, I thought we were on top," Green said.
"We had plenty of other opportunities to put some pressure on them. We fought hard all the way to the end though so I can't fault their effort given the team we had out there.
"We were a chance all the way through. I just thought our execution let us down a little bit in a couple of instances."