Departing Cowboys front-rower James Tamou was forced to contemplate how North Queensland's 2015 premiership success may have influenced their 12-point loss to the Sharks on Friday night.
The Cowboys were vying to become the first club in 23 years to win back-to-back premierships in a unified competition leading into their preliminary final clash at Allianz Stadium.
Instead they were met by a Sharks ambush where Cronulla halves James Maloney and Chad Townsend ran riot over their more-fancied Cowboys opponents.
While a Cowboys premiership quinella was never a focus, Tamou alluded to North Queensland's emphatic 39-0 win over the Sharks in last year's semi-finals as a key motivator for their opponents.
"The fire was there but we weren't consistent enough. The fire burns a lot more with teams that haven't been there yet or might have been kicked out of the finals last year I'm guessing," Tamou said.
"Maybe the words 'back-to-back' might have come up but we were taking this game as another opportunity. Last year was last year, we let that be," he added.
"We have had a target on our heads all year and it was up to us to step it up. To come this far is a great achievement but it wasn't what we wanted.
"It was our opportunity lost. It was up to us to solve it and we weren't able to. It was our fault."
Tamou will now head to the Penrith Panthers for the 2017 NRL Telstra Premiership season.
The 27-year-old will arrive at the foot of the mountains with 170 first grade games including a premiership victory, 12 Tests for Australia and 14 State of Origins for New South Wales under his belt – all of which was achieved while at the Cowboys.
"It hasn't sunk in yet. I'm felling nothing. I'm sure it'll take its time," Tamou said of his departure.
"Once everything settles and I get to look back at it, yeah I'll definitely be proud with what we have accomplished here and how far we have come.
"When I first came up to first grade to now, it's a lot to take in. It's a big blur at the moment.”
Tamou believes the Cowboys still have a lot to be excited about moving forward and said the club remains in good hands as he hailed big futures for the likes of Coen Hess, Kalyn Ponga and Jason Taumalolo.
Taumalolo himself said he and fellow young forwards like John Asiata and Pat Kaufusi have lost a mentor in Tamou.
"He's been there from day dot for me," Taumalolo said.
"I was there when he first met his partner and had kids. To see him progress to the man he is now has been a credit to himself.
"To see him join a new club next year is obviously a huge loss for us. I'll take the memories I've had with him and I'll remember him for the player he is now and for the man he is off the field."
Game on. Data off.
Stream every NRL game, including finals, live and data free with a 2016 Footy Pass, exclusive to Telstra mobile.
Watch all the NRL action live on your compatible tablet or mobile device with data-free streaming on your Telstra mobile plan.
For use in Australia only.