North Queensland coach Todd Payten admits he's not sure his side would have held on if the Bulldogs had been at full strength in the final quarter of Sunday's 30-18 win.
With Jack Hetherington sent off for a high swinging arm on Val Holmes in the 55th minute and the Cowboys scoring soon after, the Dogs rallied to score the next two and could have levelled up three minutes from full-time had Nick Cotric not been fractionally offside from an attacking kick from which Will Hopoate touched down.
"That performance just indicates where we're at as a team and a club," Payten said.
"We have moments, patches and we have some decision-making errors that we still need to improve if we're to get any better.
"We're fortunate – I think the send-off was the right call but if they have 13 players on the field, who knows what happens.
Hetherington sent off for high shot on Holmes
"I think that freed them up a little bit in terms of playing some footy."
With a sluggish first half finishing at 6-all, Payten said the simple half-time message was to go through the middle which worked in patched but criticised his side for getting "bored" with the game plan.
He was particularly frustrated a 12-man Dogs line-up was still able to score by creating an overlap against 13 defenders.
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"It's what happens when you don't win your tackles and people aren't onside quick enough," he said.
"The last two weeks there's been 13, 14-plus offloads against us. That's a contact and line speed and effort-based flaw. It's something that really hurts us and that's just where we're at."
Payten was happy with the impact of his bench, praising the impact of Francis Molo and Mitch Dunn through the middle and bench hooker Jake Granville's spark out of dummy-half.
He was also happy with the way young backs Connelly Lemuelu and Murray Tualagi carried the ball out of territory.
He had a more mixed view on halves pairing Scott Drinkwater and Ben Hampton.
"They're developing. Again some of the decisions are hurting us particularly around our last plays," he said.
"They are leading us around the field with their talk better but there are definitely improvements across the ball for most players.
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"I think we're trying hard, I just don't think we're being smart enough. We've spoken about playing the game the right way and spending energy to gain energy and we do that in patches then there are other periods in games where we're not doing that."
Payten also gave an update on skipper Jason Taumalolo's second broken hand as the lock faces another few weeks on the sidelines.
"The first time he broke the other hand he was carrying the ball in contact. This time he was defending and he got his hand caught between another defender and the guy carrying the ball," he said.
"I didn't notice him come off the session until he was sitting on the sideline. It's far less painful than the first one and the fracture is not displaced so I would assume it's going to be quicker."