The Warriors of 2021 continue to be a difficult team to define.
They've had several chances this year to really put a spark into their season, with the kind of statement victory that propels them into a strong position and a different mindset.
There was the early chance for back-to-back wins in round two in Newcastle, lost after leading with six minutes to play. There was the last-second loss to Manly on the Central Coast and the ultimately unsuccessful comeback against the Sea Eagles earlier this month.
The frustrating 29-28 defeat in Townsville on Friday night belongs in the same category: the kind of result that leaves more questions than answers and could be very costly come September.
On the bright side, this team doesn't lack for heart and guts.
Plenty of previous Warriors teams might have folded facing a 22-6 halftime scoreline, after the Cowboys had taken advantage of Jazz Tevaga's 30th-minute sin-binning, and the visitors showed great skill and resilience to come back into the contest.
The Warriors were dominant for most of the second half, with four unanswered tries in the space of 22 minutes to roar into a 28-22 lead.
But the final flourish never came, which left the door ajar for the Cowboys, though Valentine Holmes will surely never hit a better field goal than the 40-metre bullet he struck in the 79th minute.
Before the Cowboys' long-range levelling try in the 75th minute, the Warriors were well positioned to extend their lead to seven, but seemed reluctant to take the snap. There is an opportunity cost of a miss, with a seven-tackle set, but the bonus is obvious.
Then, with less than two minutes to play, an unusual refereeing decision gave them a scrum near the posts, 20 metres out. But, similar to the Sea Eagles game, the team looked unsure of how to best engineer the opportunity, though Chanel Harris-Tavita should have done better with his final attempt.
"The game was decided by the sin-binning - that's where the game was lost," was coach Nathan Brown's succinct verdict.
"Last week we had 12 men and we handled it quite well, with the defence and [Friday] we came up short. The sin-binning happened and we had some people that didn't handle it so well."
The Warriors lost shape and structure in the 15 minutes before halftime, with errors and penalties handing the momentum to the home side, who attacked relentlessly through the middle of the ruck.
Brown didn't single out individuals, but was obviously disappointed with Eliesa Katoa, who pushed a couple of ambitious offloads and was outmanoeuvred for the Cowboys' third try. But at least he chased Jake Clifford's grubber as others froze and, while the second rower looks down on confidence, Katoa still bends the line with his charges.
Bunty Afoa's continued lack of game time (17 minutes) remains a mystery, as he appears more effective than either Kane Evans or Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, while Tevaga worked hard to make up for his late shot (which was inexcusable) when he returned.
Brown was disappointed with the team's kicking game. While the Cowboys profited from their fifth-tackle options – with four repeat sets, a try and another turnover – the Warriors rarely found the mark.
Reece Walsh played a big role in the second half revival – creating two tries and scoring another – but Brown said the 18-year-old had a lot to learn in his overall game and had been found wanting with some of his first-half work.
It's a decent dilemma. Walsh's sparkle is hard to ignore, but it's also hard for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to have the same impact on the game out wide.
Brown was also content with the final set in front of the Cowboys posts, saying it was the right call to look for a try early, while the setup for the field goal attempt was satisfactory, with only the execution by Harris-Tavita lacking.