Renouf: Pretenders or contenders -  Cowboys must decide

Renouf: Are Cowboys pretenders?

The next month of football will determine whether the North Queensland Cowboys are premiership pretenders or contenders.

The Cowboys, to their credit, have built a reputation as a team where success is expected.

I tipped them to finish in the top two. They need to start playing like that and they need to turn it around in the next month where they play the Panthers, Warriors, Bulldogs, Titans and Raiders. They can't afford to drop more than one of those games.

Paul Green mentioned it in his post-match press conference after the Melbourne loss that they are not doing the one-per-cent efforts that are needed.

It is almost as if they are waiting for someone else in the team to do something.

That is possibly because their two co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott are back, but they all need to take a lesson from the way they finished last year.

Every game was do-or-die for them and they played with desperation and made their way to the grand final where the result was a reflection of the immense effort they had put into getting there. They were spent.

They need to find that attitude and commitment at the start of the year.

The reason I jumped on Brisbane after their first-round loss was the fire in the belly should be there from the start.

For the Cowboys, it is disappointing that, three rounds into the season, we haven't seen that fire.

I know you don't win a premiership in the first month but you can lose one.

These opening rounds have shown that there has been a massive turnaround in the performances of the New Zealand Warriors and St George Illawarra Dragons. Other teams are on the improve and the Cowboys have to take heed of that and follow suit.

A lot of their games over the years have been won from behind but as a player or a coach why do you want that?

They also have a history of playing catch-up on the competition ladder as well but it is far better to start a season on the front foot. The Cowboys' way is draining.

The successful Broncos teams have mostly been frontrunners. We didn't have the Cowboys tag of coming from behind, although we were confident enough to do that if we were confronted with that situation.

I am a big believer in the importance of having a positive start to a season. It was drilled into the Broncos because we could shed eight or more players in an Origin series. The Cowboys could shed four or five – certainly Michael Morgan, Gavin Cooper, Jordan McLean and Matt Scott – so it is so important for them to start clocking up some wins

They need an attitude change and to compete on those little things that make a difference in a game.

When you play against teams that are not in the same class as your own you need to win. The Cowboys tend to drop games they shouldn't but they need to realise the standing they now have in the game and put their foot down. They have built a foundation to be a powerhouse, but you can lose that very quickly. JT is at the end of his career and Scott is nearing it.

Jason Taumalolo has been well contained and has said he went missing in action in one game. If it is all about teams getting smarter in defending against him, then Paul Green needs to get smarter in how he uses him. I'd liked to see some of the Cowboys speedsters running off his hip because Taumalolo is big enough to bump the line and get a ball away.

The Cowboys have a window of opportunity open to them this year to win a second premiership but they won't achieve that ultimate goal without a quick adjustment in their attitude and commitment.