Cowboys coach Todd Payten has blasted his side’s efforts during their do-or-die match against the Panthers, acknowledging a solitary player who can hold his head high following the loss.
The Cowboys needed to defeat the Panthers to cement their spot in the competition’s top eight but fell at the final hurdle as they were downed by the home team 44-12.
The now minor premiers burst out of the gates, scoring five unanswered tries in the opening half.
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With some stern words from Payten at the break, the Cowboys dominated the opening 10 minutes of the second half. But the swing in momentum was shortlived as Panthers soon wrestled back control.
Speaking post-match, a livid Payten declared that backrower Luciano Leilua was the only one of his 17 players who could compete with the Panthers’ intensity.
“When you’re playing a good physical team and you show any sign of weakness, they get real hungry and that first period after 20 minutes, the only real bloke I saw standing up physically was Luc (Leilua),” he told the media.
“We were shell-shocked. The boys were looking at each other waiting for someone else to do something when we needed to come together as a team and fight together. That was the hard part to watch.
“To go in at halftime like we did, with everything to play for, and getting put on the back foot and not showing any real resolve was really, really disappointing and hard to cop.
“We had 17 plays inside our own 20 for five tries and that’s not good enough at NRL level, no matter who you’re playing.
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“We sit here after 27 weeks and we’re going to watch finals, more than anything because we didn’t stop enough tries.”
With 542 tries scored against them in 2023, the Cowboys merely scored more than they let past them, and after losing four of their last five games, slipped to 11th position on the ladder.
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“There’s many reasons why I’m disappointed, we know how much talent we’ve got and how much hard work has gone into it,” Payten said.
“To find ourselves in the top eight five or six weeks ago and fall out of it, yeah it’s disappointing.
“I’m not going to offer excuses, at the end of the day we didn’t fight hard enough to stop tries, no matter who is in the team, and that’s why we’re watching finals.”
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