The Cowboys concede they didn't adapt to the game's increased intensity last year, but new coach Todd Payten is addressing that during the pre-season.
Since taking over the head role, Payten has placed an emphasis on speed and fitness with the aim of conditioning the squad to excel under the six-again infringement rule.
North Queensland slumped to a 14th-place finish and only won five games in 2020 as coach Paul Green exited mid-year.
And with six-again able to be awarded for 10-metre offside infringements as well as ruck indiscretions next season, the Cowboys know they can't afford to be off the pace any longer.
"We've sort of changed a lot of how we want to train. It's a lot more up-tempo, a lot quicker," forward Corey Jensen said.
Analysing the Cowboys' 2021 draw
"The game's changing now, the game's a lot quicker, so we have to try to adapt to that. Training sessions have been a lot more full-on.
"It was hard - I think some teams have adapted better than others [to the rule changes in 2020] and we were probably one that were a bit slower to adapt to how the game's changed.
"That's one thing that Toddy's really emphasised through this pre-season: we have to get a lot faster."
Jensen added: "I just think [Payten] has changed the whole dynamics of how we want to play as a team.
The Cowboys' 2020 season in review
"It's a lot more fast, we're playing a lot more up-tempo, trying to react to quick play-the-balls and lot more off-the-cuff kind of footy."
While the Cowboys have long had a strong forward pack led by Jason Taumalolo, winger Murray Taulagi said Payten has challenged the smaller men to shoulder a heavier workload in attack.
"With the outside backs being a big role in the game with tough carries and stuff, I think he wants us to be more involved," Taulagi said.
"He's definitely tried to train us to be fitter with trying to get all the tough carries out there, trying to help out our forwards a bit since we don't do much tackling.
"With the way that Toddy's come in and sort of rebooted the club a bit - I think with his training schedules, the way he wants us to be, - it's made me better."