Cowboys coach Todd Payten blasted his side’s lack of physically and said just one of his players could hold their head up after their season on Saturday night.
North Queensland needed to beat the Panthers to play finals but were comprehensively outclassed in a 44-12 thrashing by the two-time reigning premiers.
Payten was filthy at full-time and said backrower Luciano Leilua was the only one of his players who was up for the fight in Penrith.
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“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,” he said.
“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.
“We sit here after 27 weeks and we’re going to watch finals, more than anything because we didn’t stop enough tries.”
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The Cowboys finished third last season and went within a try of the grand final, but they slipped back down to 11th in 2023.
“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.”