JUST two weeks into the defence of their premiership the Cowboys have been handed an unambiguous reminder of how tough it is to be the hunted.
From the moment Johnathan Thurston landed the golden-point field goal in October last year to give the Cowboys their maiden premiership, the players and coach Paul Green have been under no illusion as to the pressure associated with going back to back.
It has not been done since 1992-93, and the introduction of the salary cap means the competition is now infinitely closer.
Green has a couple of major advantages over previous coaches who have endeavoured to emulate the Broncos' feat of 24 years ago.
One is that his winning 17 players remain on his roster; the second that Townsville is well away from the incessant gaze of the somewhat eccentric Sydney media.
But as was clearly evident at Parramatta on Saturday night, the scalp of the premiers is a major prize.
And for teams that realistically might not be a finals hope, beating the Cowboys this season will be akin to a mini premiership.
Let's face it - the Cowboys did not receive the rub of the green against the Eels.
Even the Fox commentators, who don't have an axe to grind one way or the other, offered that opinion during the call.
For starters, the 10-4 penalty count against them was an eyebrow raiser.
Ill-disciplined teams do not win premierships, so why would the same 17 players, two weeks into a new competition, all of a sudden lose their self-control.
Two decisions in particular were absolute shockers.
Winger Kyle Feldt was penalised when Semi Radradra cannoned into him, not vice-versa.
And placing Matt Scott on report for a crusher tackle was poor refereeing and begs the question why the guys in the bunker cannot rule on something as patently obvious as that mistake.
Skipper Johnathan Thurston, who usually loves a chat, was a surprise absentee from the post-match press conference, which could reasonably be construed as a protest at the manner in which the game was handled.
Clearly frustrated at the penalty count, he had a running battle with referee Jarrod Maxwell, and at one stage was heard to ask for "just some consistency".
And while the conformity of the refereeing may well be a matter of opinion, surely Saturday night's clash - in the opinion of many, the match-of-the-round - should have commanded the No.1 referee.
Yes, the Cowboys had an off night, particularly in respect of their handling.
They completed at 65% - 24 from 38 sets - which is obviously not the traits of a champion side.
But, as premiers and as the hunted, they are at the very least entitled to a fair crack of the whip.
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