They've lost six of their last seven and their finals hopes are dwindling but teenage rookies Daejarn Asi and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow have emerged as Cowboys stars of the future.
North Queensland coach Paul Green didn't hide his disappointment despite a much-improved effort from his undermanned team in their 22-10 loss to new ladder leaders Penrith on Sunday.
Green believes Asi and Tabuai-Fidow are bright spots in the injury-enforced development period for his depleted side.
The Cowboys, who fielded eight players with fewer than 30 NRL games to their names, were far from disgraced as the pair provided much-needed highlights.
Tabuai-Fidow scored a brilliant try, the speedy fullback beating six defenders along the way, while Asi marked his debut at five-eighth with an impressive touchdown.
"[Asi] has played a bit of everywhere [in the juniors], actually. A bit of fullback, a bit of centre, in the halves. He started the year as a train-and-traillist, so he wasn't even on the development list," Green said.
"He's handled ... I was going to say has handled everything, he didn't handle pre-season training real well. That was a real shock for him. Most times we walked through the players' lounge, he was asleep.
"But he fought through it and he came onto our development list earlier in the year.
Tabuai-Fidow carves up the Panthers
"He's got a good temperament and the occasion doesn't seem to overawe him. I thought tonight he come to the game and had some really good plays there. He wasn't afraid to play."
The lightning-quick Tabuai-Fidow, who debuted in round five, hasn't looked out of place at fullback and he is expected to see out most of the season in the No.1 jumper with Valentine Holmes injured.
"That try we saw, we know he's capable of doing that. So he should take a lot of confidence out of that against a good side. That was good to see," Green said.
The premiership-winning mentor said prop Jordan McLean (calf) is an outside hope to play next week but captain Michael Morgan and forward John Asiata are still a few matches away.
A silver lining is his youngsters will have the chance to grow.
"Part of my job is to teach them. But you can't just be satisfied with playing NRL. If your club or your team or your players are just happy to be playing NRL, then that's all you'll ever be," Green said.
Match Highlights: Panthers v Cowboys
"You always need to be honest and they always need to be accountable, but sometimes it's about how you deliver it.
"That is the hard part, particularly at the moment, because I was proud of their effort tonight."