- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
North Queensland face an uphill battle to return to the NRL finals after coach Todd Payten labelled his team "immature" for failing to respond to pressure.
The Cowboys blew a perfect chance to keep pace with the eight against South Sydney, losing 46-18 in Newcastle on Friday night despite the Rabbitohs missing five State of Origin stars.
Making life more frustrating for Payten was the fact that North Queensland even led by 10 after 20 minutes, before conceding eight straight tries in the romp.
It marked their fourth straight loss since the round-13 bye, with the Cowboys season spiralling out of control after a brief resurgence.
"We made a mistake there at the 24-minute mark. A poor pass or drop ball, and then compounded that by not defending our line," Payten said.
"We're just an immature team at the moment not willing to pay the price in the tough parts of the game.
"There are different parts of that frustration, (it) seems to be the same people consistently.
"We don't get together and reconnect as a team, we just disintegrate."
The loss leaves North Queensland finishing the round in 12th at the highest, with several teams around them to receive two points for the bye.
They will remain within two points of the top eight regardless of other results, but the next fortnight is not kind to them.
They have Sydney Roosters and Melbourne in the next two weeks, and also have Parramatta and Manly on the run home.
At best, they likely need to win at least five of their last eight to make the finals, but with such a poor for-and-against, it would likely push out the number of required victories to six.
It comes with the Cowboys having not play finals since their fairytale run to the decider against Melbourne in 2017.