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Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt.

Interim coach Josh Hannay is hopeful another valiant defeat means the Cowboys have gotten rid of their "soft underbelly" and "attitude problem".

After a dramatic week where ex-assistant Hannay replaced Paul Green in the top job, the youthful North Queensland fought hard but lacked the polish to overcome Manly in Townsville on Friday.

The respectable 24-12 loss carried on from last week's solid showing against ladder leaders Penrith, impressing Hannay even though ill-timed mistakes cruelled their hopes of an upset.

"We've had periods of footy this year where what's let us down has been an absolute soft underbelly and what I would call an attitude problem – I didn't see that out there tonight," Hannay said.

"I can live with those errors, while they're costly. I can't live with the soft stuff. I was really encouraged that I didn't see that."

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Inexperience shone through at stages for the Cowboys, including some underwhelming last-tackle options, but Hannay reiterated the importance of staying patient with the up-and-comers.

"It's not only the halves [Jake Clifford and Daejarn Asi]. It's young Hamiso [Tabuai-Fidow] at the back, he's young and we've seen what he can do," Hannay said.

"Reece Robson and Reuben Cotter are young hookers, so they're not going to get it right all the time, but again, I love their will and their intent to keep trying ... until the 80th minute.

"We can work on the finer parts of our attack, but the ability to compete is what we need to continue to see from these guys."

Feldt doing Feldt things

Hannay thought North Queensland looked more assured in defence with Justin O'Neill shifting to left centre in place of the injured Connelly Lemuelu, while Kiwi international Esan Marsters was dropped.

A loss on his NRL head coaching debut hasn't deterred Hannay's enthusiasm for the role after Green's sudden exit.

"The beginning of the week was really difficult and challenging in processing what had happened," Hannay said.

"But once it was down to business, I really enjoyed the week. I really enjoyed having a greater impact on the side ... I really enjoyed the way they responded and the energy they brought to training and the energy they brought tonight."

Manly coach Des Hasler was pleased that his team withstood a Cowboys surge to make a draining trip to Townsville worthwhile.

"We handled their momentum – they got a bit of momentum off our no-try [in the first half]," Hasler said.

"We had to weather a couple of difficult patches so it's great to get out of here – it's a cliche – with the two points."

Hasler agreed the win was a bonus "considering we started at quarter-past nine at Narrabeen this morning and we'll finish about 2.30, 3 o'clock tomorrow morning."

He was happy with prop Addin Fonua-Blake's performance on his return from suspension and made an unprompted mention of five-eighth Cade Cust, who scored a try and set up another in the second half.

"I thought Cade Cust was very good tonight, very strong. He came up with a couple of big plays," Hasler said.