Dragons five-eighth Corey Norman.

Dragons coach Paul McGregor knew it was going to take time for his key playmakers to gel so he wasn't about to panic after a first-up loss to the Cowboys in Townsville on Saturday.

Time is in short supply this week, however, as the Dragons face a five-day turnaround before their clash with the Rabbitohs at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on Thursday night.

After struggling for fluency in attack in the 24-12 loss to the Cowboys, McGregor said patience was the key - along with plenty of hard work.

He said it would take a while to get the combinations right with former No.6 Gareth Widdop now at fullback and ex-Eel Corey Norman slotting in at five-eighth alongside Ben Hunt.

“Certainly when you've got a change to your spine and then we moved Tyson Frizell into the middle, it's going to take a little bit of time but that's not an excuse," McGregor said.

"If we go in at halftime with 50-50 possession, we're fresh in the second half. If we play a little bit smarter to start the second half, it’s a different game."

The attention now turns to Thursday night with players needing plenty of recovery after 80 minutes of toil on a hot and humid Townsville night.

“No game’s easy. It's certainly a task but nothing we can't manage - and look forward to,” McGregor said.

“It's all about recovery and getting some information about what we need to improve. But if we show that effort and desperation and we control possession, you’ll see a different football team on Thursday."

McGregor didn’t mince his words when sharing his thoughts on the loss to a Cowboys side also testing out a new spine in the post-Thurston era.

Dragons halfback Ben Hunt.
Dragons halfback Ben Hunt. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

“I feel that there were parts of the game that we can be really proud of and parts we need to be better,” McGregor said.

“I thought we really started with purpose, to go in front 6-0.

“We turned over too much possession, compounded by a couple of seven- tackle kicks and one out on the full which put us under pressure. But to still lead with a couple of minutes to go before halftime I really thought the effort and desperation was there.

“However we really didn't play any football that we practised.

"The Cowboys handled the weather and the humidity better. We had some tired men because the amount of work."