A controversial sin-bin put paid to North Queensland's late comeback, but coach Todd Payten felt the team "got what we deserved" in the 26-24 loss to Cronulla.
The straight-shooting Payten placed the blame squarely on his troops and struggled to find bright spots in their performance.
"I'm really frustrated because, in the end, we didn't deserve to win," Payten said at Queensland Country Bank Stadium on Friday night.
"We had some inside 40 [metres] errors and they [his team] can't back that up by defending their own line. Kicked out on the full again off a kick-off. Not kicked out off a tap. They're mistakes you shouldn't make.
"We won some field position and tried to force our hand with an offload. We went a bit sideways when we had the opportunity.
"With seven or eight minutes to go we scored a try and worked out that if we play direct, we can hurt teams."
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Down by 14 with seven minutes left, a Kyle Feldt double had the Cowboys poised to reel in the Sharks but their momentum dissipated when hooker Reece Robson struck Aiden Tolman high.
The Cronulla prop fell into Robson's 77th-minute tackle but referee Peter Gough still ended his night early.
Payten, however, thought the game was decided elsewhere.
"We got what we deserved, so to try and find a positive out of the game - I don't think it's fair on our group," the mentor said.
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"I don't think it's right to - pardon the word - but piss in our pockets. It's not my style. It's definitely not Deano's [assistant coach Dean Young's]. It's not what we've been about as coaches.
"We're pretty honest and direct, and we've got some hard conversations over the next 24 hours, there's no doubt."
Having won six of eight matches before the bye to put themselves into the top eight, North Queensland have now lost back-to-back matches after being thumped by Manly last week.
"We've had three losses where we've conceded 50 points, which is not NRL standard by any means," Payten said.
"We won our games by short margins and we've only played for 50 minutes, at most, throughout an 80-minute period. We're always working on it, but our goal-line D, in particular, is not good enough."
Centre Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow played only 22 minutes after suffering a head knock, forcing Jake Granville out wide, but Payten said the Maroons State of Origin hopeful was "with it" despite failing his HIA.
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