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Payten faces one of his toughest tests as Cowboys coach

North Queensland coach Todd Payten concedes he faces one of the toughest challenges of his coaching career after the Cowboys lost their fifth consecutive match.

The 20-18 away loss to Gold Coast on Sunday has the Townsville-based side mired in 12th after they were second following their 35-22 home win over the same opponents in round five.

The losing streak is their worst since 2021, when in Payten's first season at the helm they suffered 10 consecutive defeats.

"It is up there as a challenge. I wouldn't say it is the greatest ... but it is not just going to click," Payten said.

"We need to fight and scrap our way to victory and that is with an 80-minute effort. It is about getting the first one out of the road and building on that."

The Cowboys have a chance to get back in the winners circle at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday when they face last-placed South Sydney.

They are conceding far too many tries through the middle of the field and to allow the barge-over effort by David Fifita near the line in the first half was unacceptable for an NRL outfit.

Payten said his side showed fighting spirit to almost snatch a victory but had got themselves "in a hole" when they trailed 20-0 at halftime.

"We are sitting here after five losses on the trot and we haven't got anyone else to blame," Payten said.

"I know the only way out of it is to get our heads down, work really hard and stay tight as a group. We saw in the second half that the care, fight and resilience is there.

"That is the message I gave the team. It is about sticking together and prioritising our profession."

There is nothing wrong with the Cowboys roster with Queensland representatives Val Holmes, Jeremiah Nanai, Reuben Cotter and Tom Dearden all on the park against the Titans.

Hooker Reece Robson has represented NSW and fullback Scott Drinkwater was a Blues 18th man last year.

"Games aren't won on paper. They are won on determination, attitude and resilience. We are just falling short in different areas," Payten said.

The Cowboys won four of their first five games but were loose defensively in several of those victories.

"I think they were soft wins to be fair and wallpapered some of our defensive stuff," he said.

"When we played the better teams we couldn't get it done. Defensively, our mindset around stopping tries has got to improve."