North Queensland coach Todd Payten again felt his side shot themselves in the foot but had praise for three players during Sunday's round-one loss to the Bulldogs.
The Cowboys are priced at 9/2 to finish in the top eight of the NRL in 2022 and play finals but they have not started on the right foot.
The Cowboys were leading at half-time thanks to a maiden NRL try from Tom Gilbert but that was as good as it got for Payten's men.
The Bulldogs fought back in the torrential rain in Townsville with Jayden Okunbor scoring the only try of the second half in the 51st minute.
North Queensland thought they had snatched the win at the death when Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow went over under the posts, only to be denied the by the bunker.
Video replays showed the fullback had strayed ahead of kicker Chad Townsend and the try was chalked off.
Payten felt his side were their own worst enemy but did have praise for Gilbert, Tom Dearden and young-gun Jeremiah Nanai.
"The upside he (Nanai) has is enormous," Payten told reporters after the loss. "That was his first run for the season too, so to get through 80 minutes the way he did is really encouraging.
"Tommy Gilbert was strong for us, he played between the edge and middle and his effort and work ethic is is positive.
"We showed periods where we hung in there but by no way do I feel like we were beaten, it was a game that we cost ourselves."