Cowboys second-rower Coen Hess.

Like most brutal lessons it will be a lasting one but Coen Hess insists he learnt more in the Cowboys' finals exit at the hands of the Sharks than he did in his starring role against the Broncos a week earlier.

One of the most highly-regarded forward talents in the game, Hess was thrust into North Queensland's starting side for their semi-final against the Broncos due to the neck injury suffered by Ethan Lowe and only a month after his 20th birthday.

While debutant Kalyn Ponga and eventual Dally M Medal winner Jason Taumalolo stole most of the headlines, Hess played all 90 minutes in just his eighth NRL appearance, scored the opening try of the game and ran for a total of 188 metres in addition to making 29 tackles.

Four months later he describes it as the highlight of his career to date but he said the seven days that followed really proved to him what it takes to be a consistent performer in the toughest rugby league competition in the world.

A lacklustre Cowboys team committed almost every rugby league sin imaginable as the Sharks assumed control and led 32-6 heading into the final 10 minutes to earn a grand final berth.

Hess again played the entire game and made 112 metres and 30 tackles but as he nears the end of his first full NRL pre-season admits he struggled to back up physically and mentally following the extra-time epic against the Broncos.

"I was pretty happy with my performance against the Broncos and then not so happy with my performance against the Sharks," Hess told NRL.com.

"I took a lot out of those finals games that I did play. I got a bit of confidence but also the knowledge that I still have a lot to work on.

"That was my mindset coming into this pre-season, understanding that I still have a lot to learn.

"That Broncos game did take a toll on me personally. Being a young fella and being thrown into that sort of arena was pretty daunting and then having to back that up the following week was something I found pretty tough.

"You learn a bit more in your losses. The thing I took most out of the Broncos game was a bit of confidence in myself and then in that Sharks game I still got exposed on a couple of different occasions that I can remember.

"I understand that there's always room for improvement."

Such understanding for one so young and with so much talent will be music to the ears of Cowboys coach Paul Green as he wrestles with how to get his young Hess monster more game-time in 2017.

An athletic and destructive runner on the edges who can play either side and regularly gets an arm free for an offload, Hess scored tries in each of the three games he started last season and has been included in Queensland's Emerging Origin squad that will gather next week.

He has added a couple of additional kilograms to a 190-centimetre frame that carried 110 kilograms in 2016 and as he adjusts to life as a full-time NRL player is gaining a greater understanding of how to get the most out of his body.

"I had a pretty good taste of it last year but obviously fluctuating between 20s and NRL the full intensity wasn't there for the entire week and it's been pretty difficult for me," said Hess, who did half the NRL pre-season ahead of the 2016 campaign.

"The body's slowly adapting to it but in the long run it will reap benefits for me.

"I've gained a bit of weight muscle-wise and feeling pretty fit so now it's making sure I'm still doing all the right pre-hab exercises to prevent injuries and looking after the body that way.

"I had to learn pretty quickly injury prevention techniques and being on top of my recovery, whether that's eating the right foods, sleeping, it comes down to a lot of finer details than what it may seem.

"I was playing at 110-111 now and I'm sitting at about 113.5 now but I tend to always do that in pre-season. I put on a bit of muscle and then during the season when you're not training as much I can't eat as much so I usually shed off a few kilos.

"Being a bit heavier in pre-season gives me that bit of leeway through the season."