Todd Payten was again left lamenting self-inflicted wounds after watching his Cowboys surrender a 10-point lead in their 46-18 loss to South Sydney at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.
After scoring two tries in as many minutes to lead 12-2 midway through the first half, the Cowboys leaked 44 straight points before saving some face with a Kyle Feldt try two minutes from full-time.
It was North Queensland’s fourth loss on the trot, leaving them in 11th position on 14 points, and their second heavy defeat in Newcastle in the space of six days following their 38-0 rout at the hands of the Knights last Saturday night.
Payten missed that game as he was in COVID-related isolation in Townsville, but he was cleared to return to duties with the team on Tuesday.
“I’m very frustrated. There’s different parts to that frustration,” Payten told reporters after the game.
“It seems to be the same people consistently over 15, 16 rounds. We don’t reconnect and get together as a team, we sort of disintegrate and don’t talk, and it’s not good enough.”
Feldt scores late for the Cowboys
Halfback Tom Dearden scored the Cowboys’ first try in the 18th minute before Jason Taumalolo punched a hole up the middle two minutes later and linked with Reece Robson before Shane Wright crossed wide out, but the Cowboys then paid the price for sloppy handling at their end of the field and a lack of commitment in defence.
Even after Souths scored through fullback Blake Taaffe in the 24th minute, reducing the deficit to 12-6, the Cowboys forced an error from back-rower Keaon Koloamatangi from the set of six following the kick-off but could not take advantage.
Feldt lost the ball in a tackle 10 metres from his own line just four minutes later and the Rabbitohs, led superbly by halves Cody Walker and Adam Reynolds, responded with three tries in six minutes to take a 22-12 lead into half-time.
Match Highlights: Rabbitohs v Cowboys
“We made a mistake there at the 25-minute mark – poor pass into a dropped ball, then we compound that by not defending our line – so we’re just an immature team at the moment,” Payten said.
“We’re just not willing to pay a price in the tough parts of the game for long enough.
“I thought Jason and ‘Macca’ (Jordan McLean) were pretty strong but they need some assistance by some key players around them and some more experienced guys.”
Payten had reason to feel confident after the way his team started the game.
“We just played with good control, we kept it simple, we ran hard, we didn’t gamble with any of our plays, but when we started to gamble, things didn’t work,” he said.
“That was the start of the slide.”
Though Payten said he and his players were looking forward to returning to Townsville to play the Roosters next Saturday night, he had no issue with their preparation for their past two games.
“There is no way that the travel is an issue for us. It’s actually almost a bonus because our players don’t sleep after games anyway, they’re so revved up,” the coach explained.
“We get home at 2 o’clock, and they wake up the next day in their own bed.
Payten refuses to blame travel for losses
“It’s different, but the day’s not taxing in any way. We were at the airport at midday, we were here at the ground by 4 o’clock, they lie around and have a sleep, they relax, so it’s not too different from their day at home in terms of physicality.
“You’ve got to remember that Souths had to get on a two-and-a-half hour bus ride, so it’s the same for both teams.
"Like I said before, our training’s not our problem, we’ve gone the other way with our training, so it’s what happens when we’re put under pressure, and under fatigue, and it’s usually us punching ourselves in the face at the moment.”