North Queensland Cowboys Scrimmage and Fan Day In Ayr
AYR, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 13: Cowboys coach Todd Payten looks on during a North Queensland Cowboys Scrimmage game against the Townsville Blackhawks at Rugby Park on February 13, 2021 in Ayr, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

The North Queensland Cowboys will remain glued to a bottom four rung on the NRL ladder after a surprise 32 points to 22 loss against the Dolphins on Friday evening in Townsville, and coach Todd Payten has handed his team a serve.

The club struggled throughout the first half in particular, with the Dolphins able to score time and time again on the back of errors from North Queensland.

By the time it was all said and done, the Cowboys had made 13 errors to 6, given away 7 penalties and completed just 25 out of 37 sets for a 67 per cent rate.

Simply not good enough, it's a trend which has plagued the Cowboys throughout the opening six weeks of the campaign as they attempt to back up their run to the preliminary finals last year, where they ultimately came up short against the Parramatta Eels.

They have kicked off 2023 looking more like the side who were forecast by many to pick up the wooden spoon in 2022 than the one who made the top four, and Payten said they were doing it to themselves during his post-game press conference.

"This game is hard enough to win when you're only playing one opponent," Payten said.

"We are playing two at the moment. Ourselves and the opposition, and it's near impossible to win when you're doing that.

"Making far too many errors with the ball, not being able to defend those and then piggyback penalties for the opposition out of their own end.

"We aren't playing the game the right way, and it's the same message we have been spruiking for two or three years. We aren't getting that part right and we are a ways off at the moment."

Payten did leave a glimmer of hope for the Cowboys though, saying his team simply didn't have it worked out through the first six rounds last year either.

"We didn't have it worked out for the first six rounds, but it becomes self-fulfilling after a little while. We have to fight harder," Payten said.

Captain Chad Townsend, who has struggled to find his touch in attack this year, agreed with his coach and suggested his side haven't been good enough to begin 2023.

"It can be difficult if you make it difficult," Townsend said.

"We have a good squad, good players, we believe in our game plan and what we are coached to do, but at the moment, we aren't doing it the way we need to do to get wins. It's hard, but it can be easy if you have the right attitude."

The Cowboys' job of turning things around won't be about to get any easier with a trip across the Tasman to play the red-hot New Zealand Warriors next week, before games against the Newcastle Knights, Cronulla Sharks and Sydney Roosters follow over the following three weeks.