Forget about the top eight - at this rate the Warriors could be serious contenders for the wooden spoon. Before this match not many people felt they would beat the Cowboys; Townsville has always been a tough assignment, even for the best Warriors sides. But there was a base expectation that the Warriors would front up, determined to at least play 80 minutes of solid football and lay down a marker for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, it was a flat, listless effort from the Auckland-based side.
The belief has gone, as has the confidence. They conceded four tries in a nightmare first quarter and - after stemming the tide for the rest of the first half - let in three tries in the first 12 minutes of the second half to snuff out any remote hope of a comeback.
They are now just four points off the bottom of the ladder, and face the Panthers (h), Dragons (a) and the Raiders (h) in their last three games.
On current form, it is hard to see the Warriors beating any of those sides, though you would hope some desire and pride will return. The core of the problem, as it has been all season, was defence.
There were first up misses, misreads and a complete lack of urgency from the visitors as they missed 49 tackles.
The Warriors weren't helped by a myriad of mistakes with the ball (just 16/30 completed sets) and fortune rarely favoured them, as tends to happen when you are on a losing run.
Elijah Taylor was ruled out before the kickoff, returning to New Zealand after the passing of his father. Micheal Luck made a welcome return, though surprisingly was not used in the starting 13. The first Cowboys try came after just three minutes and was extremely soft; unfortunately typical of many they have conceded this season.
Hesitation and confusion from Kevin Locke and Manu Vatuvei turned an innocuous Matt Bowen grubber into a dangerous kick, that Brent Tate did well to flick back into the fullback's hands.
Another Vatuvei error and a Bill Tupou miss almost led to a second try just minutes later, though Antonio Winterstein just failed to ground the ball. It was a warning.
If there has been one constant this year, it is that the Warriors wing defence has been the worst in the competition. For all his attacking prowess Vatuvei still has limitations in defence and Tupou continually struggles with his defensive reads. It makes you wonder why the Warriors did not pursue Sam Perrett when he became available earlier this season, or have not looked for another experienced flank player among the other clubs in the NRL, given the importance of wingers in the modern game.
The Cowboys deluge began moments later, with Ashley Graham (twice) and Antonio Winterstein crossing for tries in the space of eight minutes. The third of that trio was particularly galling; Vatuvei had done well to regain possession from a fifth tackle bomb but his pass inside eluded Lewis Brown, who would have scored. Instead the home side raced 90 metres down the field to score.
The first quarter was a nightmare; the Warriors missed 15 tackles, conceded four tries and lost Locke to an ankle sprain. There were also needless penalties, awful errors and some unfortunate decisions.
It was also a mystery why Luck didn't start the match; when you have struggled defensively for three weeks in a row, why leave one of your best defenders on the bench?
To their credit the Warriors tightened things up in the second quarter and worked their way back into the game, a first NRL try to Carlos Tuimavave the reward after a neat move between Shaun Johnson and Feleti Mateo.
The second half started much like the first. Hurrell was exposed by a second man play and Kane Linnett strode across to extinguish any faint hopes of a Warriors' comeback. Two minutes later Gavin Cooper benefitted from more Bowen magic to score the sixth Cowboys try with more than half an hour still on the clock. The edge defence at the Warriors - which has been poor all year - is falling apart at the back end of the season. Perhaps most alarming was the lack of enthusiasm and urgency when Cooper crossed; the second rower was allowed to run 20 metres in the in-goal area to improve the angle. Additional tries to Brent Tate, Aaron Payne and Graham completed the rout before Vatuvei scored his 100th NRL try on the final whistle.
Friend, who made 45 tackles to follow 63 last week, was again a shining example of commitment and desire in adversity, not matched by enough of his team-mates, though Maloney, Tuimavave and Luck put in creditable efforts.
Cowboys 52 (M. Bowen, A. Graham 3, A. Winterstein, K. Linnett, G. Cooper, B. Tate, A. Payne tries; J. Thurston 8 goals) Warriors 12 (C. Tuimavave, Vatuvei tries, J. Maloney 2 goals). Halftime: 26-6.
IT WOULD only be a slight consolation but there is now a real possibility that Parramatta could avoid the wooden spoon.
After a season from hell, their mini-revival continued last night as they accounted for the Roosters, their third win in four games. They are now level on points with Penrith, who play the Raiders today.
It was a ragged, error-ridden match but extremely entertaining. Defence was an afterthought for most of the game, though both sides scored some splendid tries.