Cowboys back to basics for Bunnies clash

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Much has been speculated as the cause of North Queensland's demoralising three defeats since the round 13 bye, and coach Todd Payten has had enough and hell-bent on turning things around in Townsville.

The Cowboys (6-9) have the third-worst points differential in the NRL (-159), only behind Brisbane (-242) and Canterbury (-296), but amazingly still sit one game out of the top eight.

Payten's side have conceded 114 points while scoring just 42 of their own against Manly, Cronulla and Newcastle in recent rounds.

Throw in 118 missed tackles, 33 errors, a 75 per cent completion rate and less than 50 per cent possession during that period, and Payten concedes it's time to go back to basics.

"When we get punched in the face or when we punch ourselves in the face, how we handle that hasn't been good enough," he said on Thursday.

"I would like to limit the opportunities we can give to the opposition - and that's ball control, controlling where and how we turn the ball over, and then obviously our discipline and ruck infringements.

"I know our game is good enough, we've seen it in weeks gone by. If we play the game the right way we're good enough to win matches."

A second straight trip to Newcastle, this time to play South Sydney, awaits the Cowboys on Friday after the NRL shifted the match from Stadium Australia due to Sydney's COVID-19 clusters.

But while some attention has been dedicated to managing a Rabbitohs' side without their State of Origin stars, Payten noted their focus is all but on themselves.

"We've put a little bit of emphasis around Souths through the week but a lot more focus on how we get our game right," he said.

"We're going to have to be strong through the middle, with our tackling, and then obviously move and make decisions on the edge down our right in particular, that's our intentions."

The right edge will be a particular area of concern, seeking to contain mercurial try-scorer Alex Johnstone who is equal first in the NRL on 19 with Melbourne winger Josh Addo-Carr.

"We've had a good week of training, we've got a good day of travel, there are no excuses," Payten added.

"There shouldn't be further motivation for me or any other coaches rather than their performances over the past three weeks."

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