North Queensland coach Paul Green has bristled at suggestions his side are guilty of nodding off despite another patchy performance in Saturday’s 30-18 NRL loss to Cronulla.
Their status as the comeback kings could not save the Cowboys at Remondis Stadium as the 18-0 lead the Sharks shot out to proved too big a hurdle.
Green’s men have built a reputation for coming back from near-impossible positions this year but their tendency to nod off came back to haunt them in a key clash just over a month out from the finals.
Last weekend, they fought back from an 18-point deficit against Canberra and went within a whisker of repeating the feat against the Sharks when they pulled back to within six points with seven minutes on the clock.
In June, they staged the third-biggest comeback in NRL history in their memorable 36-30 win over Parramatta and, this season, they have turned around deficits bigger than 10 points on five occasions.
Despite the loss denying them a chance to grab top spot from Brisbane, who went down to Canterbury on Friday, Green said their slow start was not symptomatic of deeper problems.
He said they were outclassed and to try to read anything else into it wouldn’t be giving Cronulla due respect.
“We need to play better,” Green said.
“They turned up ready to play – they were full of energy. They defended well; they controlled the ball well; they were certainly up for it.
“They were better than us.
“There was a period in the second half where we were well and truly on top. We probably didn’t maintain pressure enough.”
The Cowboys elected to rest co-captain and prop Matt Scott and it showed as the Sharks ran for an extra 300 metres.
Green said the decision was in line with his promise to give his State of Origin stars a break in the lead-up to the finals.
“The fact that we rested Matty had nothing to do with who we were playing,” Green said.
“It was about what’s best for Matty and we knew we had a short turnaround into a big game against Souths (on Thursday) so I’ve said all along I wanted to give the Origin boys a rest at some stage.
“So we just thought this week was the best week to do it.
“I’m well aware of what that meant for us, he’s one of our captains and one of our best players … Don’t get me wrong – he could have helped out there but that wasn’t the reason we didn’t win tonight.”
Skipper Johnathan Thurston said they were outplayed in almost every facet.
“They were a more-dominant side,” Thurston said.
“Their kicking game was better than ours; their energy off their defensive line was better than ours.
“You’ve got to give them credit.”