The Warriors' finals hopes took an Olympic-sized dive while North Queensland's confidence was restored with a comprehensive victory in Townsville tonight.
The playoffs are slipping out of view for the fifth-straight year for the Warriors, who remain in ninth and needing to win their remaining two games at home against Wests Tigers and Parramatta and rely on other results to go their way to provide them with a top-eight reprieve.
Following last week's embarrassing loss to the Rabbitohs, the Warriors continued on the downward slide against the reigning premiers, letting slip any momentum they had built over a consistent nine-week stretch that provided six wins and three golden-point defeats.
They have now conceded 75 points in their last two outings, and look a shadow of the side the surged back into finals contention through the middle part of the season.
Mistakes and penalties - issues that plagued them through the first half of the season - returned to haunt Andrew McFadden's side, against a Cowboys outfit eager to atone for three consecutive defeats that had many doubting their ability to contest back-to-back titles.
A double to Kyle Feldt and another to Kiwis lock Jason Taumalolo saw the Cowboys shoot out before the Warriors hit back on the half hour with their only try of the night to captain Ryan Hoffman.
The last five minutes of the first half saw the Warriors defend four-straight sets before the pressure told with Justin O'Neil crossing for the Cowboys to help extend the score to 22-6 at the break.
The second-half saw more of the same, with the Warriors hurting themselves with unforced errors, while the Cowboys were patient in building pressure before adding further tries to Ray Thompson and Michael Morgan to cap a dominant display.
The visitors went into the match understrength and lacked cohesion on both attack and defence, with outstanding centre Solomone Kata ruled out with a hamstring injury suffered against the Rabbitohs.
McFadden also sprung a surprise pre-game, with 19-year-old five-eighth Ata Hingano brought in to make his NRL debut off the bench, and rookie hooker Nathaniel Roache promoted to the starting side in place of Jazz Tevaga.
A hamstring injury to wing Ken Maumalo saw Hingano thrust into the action early and, although the Junior Kiwis half impressed with his composure, the Warriors were hurt by the reshuffle that saw Roache out on the flank and playmaker Thomas Leuluai into dummy-half.
A rare set completion late in the first half and effective last-tackle kick from Shaun Johnson saw the Cowboys cough up possession, and from the ensuing scrum a confident run from Hingano put Hoffman in with Johnson adding the extras to make it 16-6.
That was as close as they came with the Cowboys intent on rediscovering their best form as they look to make a well-timed push towards the finals.
The pressure mounts now on the Warriors to regroup ahead of next Sunday's must-win clash against Wests Tigers at Mt Smart Stadium, and also on McFadden, who is no certainty to continue in his role should the Warriors again fall short of the finals for a fifth-straight year.
Cowboys 34 (K. Feldt 2, J. Taumalolo, J. O'Neil, R. Thompson, M. Morgan tries; J. Thurston 5 goals) Warriors 6 (R. Hoffman try; S. Johnson goal). Halftime: 22-6.