Dejected North Queensland forward Coen Hess conceded the Melbourne Storm were just too good as the Cowboys' fairytale finals run came to an end with a 34-6 loss in the NRL Telstra Premiership grand final at ANZ Stadium.
The Cowboys' back-rower was injected into the game early following the horrific leg injury to experienced forward Shaun Fensom and churned out 60 minutes in the decider.
While both sides completed their sets at nearly 90 per cent for the encounter, the Storm made in-roads through the middle and forced Paul Green's side on the back foot for most of the contest.
"It's a hard blow to take," Hess told NRL.com after the result.
"The amount of effort that goes into getting to that point and to finish the way it did was disappointing. They played an unbeatable game.
"It hurts a lot but as a playing group we can be proud of what we achieved this year considering the adversity we faced."
The nasty injury to Fensom left a shattered feeling amongst the playing group post-game, and fans from both sides were stunned at the incident early on.
Fensom was immediately taken to hospital with a broken leg and is facing a six-month recovery period.
"You never want to see your teammate go off the field injured, especially early on in the game," Hess said.
"We're all shattered for him. Getting out there early was different and something I don't usually do until around 30 minutes.
"It's been a theme this year. A lot of boys had to play out of position this year a few times. We have done it tough and looking forward it's positive signs."
Hess experienced the highs of winning a State of Origin series alongside Storm trio Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith back in July, but was now on the receiving end of their class.
"I learnt a lot from those boys around Origin camp and tonight goes to show how good they are at their job," he said.
"They're just too good."
One of just five players in the Cowboys line-up yet to play in a decider heading into the clash, the 21-year-old believes he will become a better player for the experience.
"There is a lot of hype and commitments to do throughout the week," Hess said.
"It's not just about turning up on game day and playing.
"It's been a really good week, I've learnt a lot and something that every footy player should enjoy and encounter through their career."
With a berth in the Australian squad for the Rugby League World Cup named on Tuesday unlikely, Hess indicated his body needed a break.
"The year that I've had I'll look forward to a few more sleep-ins here or there," he said.
"I'll make sure I'm in a good condition come pre-season."