Todd Payten insists Scott Drinkwater remains a retention priority as the Cowboys await an answer on their two-year offer for the in-form playmaker.
Drinkwater almost sparked a second mammoth comeback in as many weeks for North Queensland on Sunday, scoring one try and having a hand in three others in a tense 24-20 loss to the Warriors.
Halves partner Ben Hampton meanwhile will await scan results after battling through the final 15 minutes with what is feared to be a potentially serious pec injury.
Drinkwater's attacking abilities rank among the best in the NRL this season but conjecture around his future has grown given contract talks were at first put on hold last month, then followed by the recruitment of veteran Sharks half Chad Townsend and budding Bronco Tom Dearden for 2022.
NRL.com understands a two-year deal, which would keep Drinkwater in Townsville until the end of 2023, was put to him this week, though the Central Coast junior has also registered interest from several rivals as well.
"He's a priority, he's got an offer in front of him so we're just waiting to see what happens," Payten said after the four-point loss.
Match Highlights: Warriors v Cowboys
By his own admission, Drinkwater's defence has been a chief concern over the past 18 months, and the Cowboys' efforts without the ball as a whole were found wanting at Central Coast Stadium.
Payten's frustrations were laid plain despite the 20-point second-half comeback that threatened to jag an unlikely win for the second straight week.
"When things aren't going our way we need to knuckle down and work harder to wrestle back momentum.
"We haven't strung more than 40 minutes together in what, seven, rounds?
Drinkwater looms up on the inside as the Cowboys get two quick tries
"So we know our game is good enough when we get it right, but we're just not getting it right enough.
"We're this close. But close is a long way off in this competition."
Marquee forward Jason Taumalolo was eased back into the fray after two broken hands have kept him out since round one.
The Tongan powerhouse warmed to his task with just three runs for 31 metres in his first 22-minute stint, before adding more than 100 metres in the same amount of game time in the second half.
"He did his job. He will be better for the run. He had seven weeks out so I knew he wasn’t going to be at his best, but it’s a step forward," Payten said of Taumalolo.
"We make those middle rotations based on how they’re moving defensively."