Warriors coach Stephen Kearney admits his players' football education remains a work in progress after Saturday night's NRL defeat to North Queensland all but ended their finals hopes for a sixth straight year.
The Warriors showed plenty of heart and commitment in the 24-12 loss in Townsville as they fought to keep their season alive. But after going into halftime at 12-12, poor execution and penalties prevented them from adding to their score in the second half.
The Auckland-based outfit now face what looks like a mission impossible, with the loss leaving them in 12th spot on the NRL ladder and six points outside the top eight. They now need to win at least five of their last six games to have any hope of scraping into the playoffs.
With star halfback Shaun Johnson and prop James Gavet missing through injury, the visitors defied expectations with a spirited performance, but lacked the clinical edge and big game nous inherent in sides considered genuine title contenders.
Kearney was proud of his team's improved effort following disappointing losses to Manly and Penrith, but admits they are still coming to grips with the consistent style of play needed to grind out tight results.
Improving the side's collective mindset and embedding belief and confidence in the players remains a work-on but with a little more fine-tuning he remains confident they can snap their three-game losing run.
"It is frustrating but I'm really mindful that we're playing a style of game which keeps us in the contest," said Kearney.
"I look at the Cowboys, they've been playing that way for a long time and so I understand it's a journey, it's a process that I'm on trying to build this type of football into the team.
"If we keep turning up with the effort like we did last night and we tidy the execution in a couple of little areas then I'm sure a result is not too far away."
Despite the four-tries-to-two loss, there were encouraging signs that the Warriors won't fall off a cliff in the coming weeks as they desperately look to avoid a repeat of their all-too familiar late season slides. After losing their last eight games in 2015 and six of their last eight last season, pressure remains on the players to show better resolve and end the season on some kind of positive note.
Quick line-speed and numbers in defence stifled the Cowboys go-forward and the willingness of support runners helped the Warriors ball-carriers and encouraged some second-phase play, although they dropped off in those areas as the fast-pace of the match took its toll.
Replacement No7 Mason Lino acquitted himself well in just his fourth NRL game, while five-eighth Kieran Foran led from the front in his best performance since the round 14 win over the Titans. With Johnson expected to miss at least another month of football, Lino's fledgling combinations with Foran and dummy-half Issac Luke should further improve along with the side's cohesion.
Warriors fans might be praying for a miracle but Kearney refused to concede their finals chances are gone ahead of Friday's do-or-die clash against reigning premiers Cronulla.
"If there's a possibility we'll be trying," he said. "My focus is making sure that we recover well. It was a very taxing game, we've got a big day of travel today and (must) prepare ourselves as well as possible to take a performance back home to Mt Smart on Friday night.
"That's my focus. I keep it pretty narrow, in the sense that I know if we prepare ourselves as well as possible then we give ourselves an opportunity to do that."