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Justin O'Neill heard the criticism after his Round 10 performance against the Wests Tigers and while he understood the stinging critique, it still stung.

The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys centre has endured as much flak as anyone during the club's tough first half of the season, but it reached a new high after a rough night at Leichhardt Oval.

O'Neill challenged himself to be better after that game and responded with an error-free performance against South Sydney in Round 11.

"The Leichhardt game was definitely an off one for me, whether it was just a lack of focus or staying in the moment I'm not sure," he said.

Being an 80-minute player not a 40-minute player is the biggest thing for me.

Justin O'Neill

"I was disappointed in my own performance and I knew whether I was playing Queensland Cup or in the NRL I needed to put in a better performance and I thought like it was for many of us, last weekend was a step in the right direction."

O'Neill admitted he and many others players in the Cowboys top side had been feeling the pressure from a talented group of youngsters plying their trade in the Queensland Cup, although the former Kangaroos centre said that certainly wasn't a bad thing.

Young gun Enari Tuala in particular has been applying the heat to a number of experienced members of the Cowboys backline and while the talented 19-year-old centre made his season debut in Round 11, it came from the bench.

"The pressure has been there for a while. The younger players are going back and playing Queensland Cup every weekend and playing some good footy," O'Neill said.

"They're definitely putting pressure on a lot of the players that have been there in the squad for a while now. Because we haven't been doing so well, it definitely does put a lot of pressure on the players in the NRL side."

While the Cowboys may have just fallen at the final hurdle in Round 11, O'Neill said the side still took a number of positives from the performance.

The 27-year-old said he was also encouraged by the Cowboys new-look backline with Michael Morgan at fullback and Te Maire Martin at five-eighth.

"It was definitely a step in the right direction," O'Neill said.

"I thought we looked like we had more of an attacking spark in the opposition half.

"Even though we were behind for a lot of the game, we felt comfortable that if we stuck to our structures we could find the points we needed to find."

Acknowledgement of Country

North Queensland Cowboys respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.