Newcastle coach Adam O'Brien has labelled the Knights complacent after they copped a reality check on their NRL title plans in a 32-20 thrashing by North Queensland.
A day after O'Brien warned his team were not doing as well as they thought, the Knights looked lethargic and confused on Saturday afternoon against a rampaging Cowboys outfit devoid of some big stars.
With Michael Morgan and Valentine Holmes sidelined, experienced forwards Jason Taumalolo and Josh McGuire were ruthless up front against the favoured Knights' pack in Townsville.
Taumalolo in particular was immense, celebrating his 100th NRL win with 264 metres from 24 runs, 96 post-contact metres and 27 tackles.
A week earlier, the Cowboys were on the wrong end of a 34-0 first-half thumping by the Wests Tigers but returned the favour for the Knights to take a 26-0 lead into the sheds.
And despite three tries in 16 minutes to begin the second half and a late four-pointer to Gehamat Shibasaki, the Knights could not recover from their horror start.
"We came here and we weren't prepared to roll the sleeves up and credit to the Cowboys, they've had plenty of reasons to play well and hopefully they've taken some heat off some people up here," O'Brien said.
"They were willing to fight really hard for everything and I just think we wanted to get to the end result way too quick."
O'Brien said a knock on from young fullback Hamiso Tubai-Fidow on the opening set gave the Knights permission to think the win would come easily.
"I've asked the group whether we came here with the wrong mindset based on our ladder position and based on our results, and that's not the team we need to be," he said.
"We need to be concerned with our own performances."
The Cowboys successfully dented Kalyn Ponga's impact by finishing sets with a kick into touch, limiting space and time for the fullback with ball in hand.
It was a tactic that frustrated the Knights' playmaker, who finished with just 73 run metres - well below his average of 147m for the season.
Newcastle mounted somewhat of a comeback in the second half, and in the final minute, Ponga was denied the chance to score by five-eighth Scott Drinkwater, but a penalty try was not awarded.
Drinkwater was sent to the sin-bin for the professional foul, but he went smiling as the Cowboys soon celebrated their first win in a month.
It broke a three-game losing streak for the Cowboys who had leaked 99 points to Cronulla, the Warriors and Tigers to put coach Paul Green under immense pressure.
"I don't think it would have mattered who we played today," said a relieved Green after the game.
"Given the week we've had and the criticism we've copped... we needed to play well to show everyone the care that we have for the emblem, the jersey and the club."
The Cowboys take on Parramatta on Friday at Bankwest Stadium, while the Knights look to bounce back against Manly next Sunday in Gosford.