The Warriors face a test of character over the final fortnight of the NRL regular season after falling to their sixth defeat in row.
The 50-16 thumping by North Queensland in Auckland on Saturday night was the biggest of their losing sequence and effectively ended their finals hopes after they had once sat in the top four.
They also had Jacob Lillyman join a list of experienced players who won’t feature for them again in 2015 because of injury.
The Queensland Origin prop lasted just the first hit-up of the match, going off with a fractured cheekbone.
The Warriors’ prior injury woes, and illness to Chad Townsend, meant they pitched a young halves combination into the fray against North Queensland.
Tuimoala Lolohea was playing just his fourth NRL match in the No.7 jersey while Mason Lino was making his first-grade debut.
Lolohea, 20, says senior second rower Ryan Hoffman put the challenge to the team for their remaining fixtures, away to Wests Tigers and Canterbury.
“Hoffy said this is when we’re going to know who if we’re going to stay strong together or if we fall apart,” he said.
“We’ll see who is going to stay strong to the jersey and is willing to make the sacrifice for the team, and how much desire they have.”
Yet it had started so well for the Warriors against the Cowboys, up 16-0 in the 13th minute and with Lolohea and Lino prominent.
Lolohea showed footwork worthy of injured star Shaun Johnson as he stepped past five defenders for a brilliant individual try.
Lino then put in a deft grubber from which winger Ken Maumalo touched down.
When Lolohea made another break and kicked ahead, centre Dominique Peyroux dotted down to extend the lead.
But from there, North Queensland took over, master playmaker Johnathan Thurston the orchestrator and backed up by forwards Jason Taumalolo and Ben Hannant, who provided huge metres.
The Cowboys went on to rack up nine unanswered tries, with winger Kyle Feldt nabbing a hat-trick and centre Justin O’Neill getting a brace.
“We started really well but it’s an 80-minute game and we played 25 minutes,” Lolohea said.
“We’re very disappointed in our performance. We’ve got two games to go and we want to finish our season on a high.”