NRL Rd 25 - Cowboys v Panthers
TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 03: Jeremiah Nanai of the Cowboys smiles after winning the round 25 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Penrith Panthers at Qld Country Bank Stadium, on September 03, 2022, in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

North Queensland Cowboys coach Todd Payten has revealed Jeremiah Nanai was needled both pre-game and at halftime to play out Thursday's heavy loss against the Cronulla Sharks.

In what was as good as a must-win game for the Townswville-based outfit, Nanai rushed back in just four weeks from an AC joint injury that the club had originally said would keep him out for as long as six weeks.

The Queensland State of Origin second-rower managed to play 70 minutes in the contest, but couldn't reverse the tide as the Sharks dominated the contest, running 53 metres in 6 carries, making a pair of tackle busts and completing 32 tackles, but missing 9.

Despite his defensive issues, Payten said it was a "brave effort" for Nanai to get up for the game, and then said he has eight days to recover before the Cowboys play a crunch game against the Dolphins next week.

“It was pretty brave from the kid, he needed to get needled to train, needled before the game and at halftime,” Payten said during his post-match press conference.

“Makes us a better team so he will be sore. He's got eight days to get himself going again before we play the Dolphins on Friday night.”

The 32-12 loss for the Cowboys likely means the Townsville-based outfit now needs to win both of their remaining games and have results go their way to ensure 32 points and a small positive in the for and against column is enough to sneak into the finals.

Missing the finals would finish a disastrous year for Payten's side, who hosted a preliminary final last year and fell just minutes short of making the grand final.