Bulldogs coach Des Hasler commended his side's effort despite their 24-16 loss to North Queensland on Thursday night, but warned a similar performance won't cut it come the finals in a fortnight's time.
Hasler pointed out a period late on in the first half where the Bulldogs turned the Cowboys away for six-consecutive sets on their try-line as a positive.
But the veteran mentor – who is set to lead an NRL club into the finals for the 12th-straight season - was equally critical of where the Bulldogs currently stand.
"There were some real admirable things we did. I think it worked out the Cowboys had nine of the 10 sets at that point. That's what we need to do. But we're not doing that," Hasler said.
"You don't always want to be admirable in defence. We need to turn that around a little bit. I felt we came up with too many unforced errors in key positions of the field where we had the opportunity to build some momentum.
"In the second half we came up with some one-on-one misses and the consequences were points against.
"We had a dig and their effort was really strong but until we do something about managing our ball handling, the scorelines are going to continue to be like that."
While Hasler is renowned for talking down his side's premiership credentials, he did open up on his own players' frustrations following their second-straight defeat.
"Underneath there lies potential to turn it around. There's enough experience and enough ability in this team to do that," Hasler said.
"We just need to manage 80 minutes of football, which we're not doing. We're a long way off.
"The players are disappointed and more so probably frustrated. A lot of [our problems] are self-inflicted I think. We're gifting sides with field position with our basic fundamental errors."
The Bulldogs' eight-point loss at Belmore Sportsground saw the Cowboys leapfrog Hasler's men into the top four on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder.
While the Bulldogs remain level with the Cowboys on 32 competition points, Hasler conceded his team will need to be victorious in every game from now on if they're to win their first premiership since 2004.
"We were in control [of our destiny]. That's why it was a pivotal game," Hasler said of the Cowboys loss.
"There's no point waiting on results now, we just have to win. We'll look to next week, we'll get past that and then after that it's sudden death."