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)

North Queensland Cowboys coach Todd Payten has bristled at a question around the club's preparation for Thursday night's loss to the Cronulla Sharks in Townsville.

Payten, speaking after the club blew an early lead to concede 26 unanswered points and lost 32-12, said his side's preparation was not relaxed as suggested by a journalist on the floor at the post-match press conference.

“Were you at training?” Payten said when quizzed by the journalist.

Pushed further with questions around a "relaxed preparation" which was spoken about during the week, Payten wasn't having a bar of it, suggesting the playing group respond better when they are relaxed.

“Our training sessions were short, sharp and intense. Our group respond better when they are relaxed,” Payten said.

“If I'm amped up or I am consistently in to our players we know that pushes my energy on to them and they tighten up.

“There was no mucking around or hijinx, everyone was focused and got their job done. We were just outplayed in the end.

“We put ourselves under some pressure and played a good team.”

The loss leaves the Cowboys in all sorts as they attempt to make the finals, and likely relying on other results to sneak into the top eight, even if they manage to pick up wins over the Dolphins and Penrith Panthers in the final two weeks of the season.

The Townsville-based outfit can now finish no higher than 32 competition points, or 13 wins, which is likely a mark multiple teams will finish on, creating a for and against rush for the finals.

As it stands, the Cowboys will now be relying on the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Newcastle Knights, who play each other this weekend, and the Canberra Raiders who are two points ahead but with a terrible for and against, sliding over the final weeks of the season. With their own for and against of just plus 12 currently worse than the Parramatta Eels behind them.