State of Origin might have robbed his side of five key players, but Cowboys coach Paul Green has refused to use their absence as an excuse for the team's 26-12 loss in Canberra on Monday night.
Stars Johnathan Thurston, Gavin Cooper, Matt Scott, Justin O'Neill and James Tamou were all missing, but the 2015 premiers still managed to stay in the contest until the final five minutes.
While he conceded basic errors had cruelled any chance of a famous victory, Green said he was heartened by the performance of two of the least experienced players in his squad.
Green was particularly pleased with the form of NRL debutant Josh Chudleigh who celebrated his first game in the top grade with a try.
Having come through the junior ranks in Canberra, the 22-year-old interchange hooker came back to haunt his former team with a breathtaking try early in the second half.
With nothing on, Chudleigh scooted out of dummy half, beating the first line of defence with sheer speed before swerving past fullback Jack Wighton to score under the posts.
It was reward for his endeavours over the years to establish himself in North Queensland where he was named Cowboys Holden Cup Player of the Year in 2014 and featured in the Queensland Cup Team of the Year 12 months later.
"I was really pleased for Josh. He's a good kid and he's been working hard for a couple of years," Green said.
"He really took his opportunity tonight. I thought he played really well. It was a great try he scored. It showed a fair bit of guts to back himself to come up with a try from that play."
It was also a big night for back-rower Coen Hess, who scored in what his third game in the NRL but his first in the starting side.
The 19-year-old played the entire 80 minutes and ran for 143 metres, made 31 tackles and outleapt the Canberra defence to get his side on the board early in the game.
Green was happy with his young gun's game, but admitted he still had some work to do in defence after missing a couple of key tackles.
"'Hessy' was good, but he had a couple of little defensive errors on (Blake) Austin," he said.
"I thought he got better as the game went on. He got more into the game and I thought he finished really strongly."
Pressed on whether he thought his side would have earned the win had the Origin players been there, Green was adamant that the team he named had enough chances to leave Canberra with two points.
"With the team we had out there, we still had our chances to get it done," Green said.
"A couple of their tries were just basic missed tackles so that's got nothing to with whether we had State of Origin players out or not. We should have made a few of those tackles, and that's what's cost us in the end.
"It was a really good effort, we created some really good opportunities, there was a lot to like about the performance, but when it came to the crunch, we just [came up with] a couple of simple errors defensively."