These two are experiencing a real contrast in fortunes at the moment. The Panthers are flying high and sit in second position after an impressive month of football. Meanwhile, the Cowboys can't buy a win and are languishing down the bottom of the ladder, only ahead of a hapless Paramatta.
It really is getting dangerously close to desperation stakes for the Cowboys and they've put themselves in a difficult position. Their next month of football is must-win as they take on three top-eight sides in the Tigers, Souths, and Melbourne. First up though it's the Panthers and a tough road trip to Carrington Park in Bathurst awaits.
After losing Peter Wallace before kickoff last week, the Panthers injury crisis only worsened when Dylan Edwards succumbed to a dislocated shoulder. The Panthers now have over $3 million worth of talent sitting on the bench with Nathan Cleary, Josh Mansour, Edwards and Waqa Blake all facing extended time out. In the absence of their big guns, it's the Penrith youngsters who have really stood up. Corey Harawira-Neaera has been a more than capable replacement at centre, while man-mountain Viliame Kikau looks to be a special talent. While two points will be the ultimate prize, the Panthers will just hope they can finish the game with a full 17.
2018 - Round 3 - Panthers 33 def. Cowboys 14 at 1300Smiles Stadium
2017 - Round 23 - Panthers 24 def. Cowboys 16 at Panthers Stadium
2017 - Round 18 - Cowboys 14 def. Panthers 12 at 1300Smiles Stadium
2016 - Round 6 - Cowboys 23 def. Panthers 18 at Panthers Stadium
2015 - Round 5 - Cowboys 30 def. Panthers 10 at Panthers Stadium
It's Penrith who have the wood over the Cowboys with wins in their past two against the North Queensland outfit. The Panthers most recent matchup was just a month ago when they completed a 33-14 rout of Paul Green's men. Although we didn't know it at the time, that game would signal four straight losses for the Cowboys and see them slump to a 2-6 record.
Both sets of players better rug up for this game in Bathurst - they're expecting a nippy low of 3 degrees on Friday night.
|1||Dallin Watene-Zelezniak||Lachlan Coote|
|2||Christian Crichton||Kyle Feldt|
|3||Isaah Yeo||Justin O'Neill|
|4||Dean Whare||Ben Hampton|
|5||Tyrone Phillips||Antonio Winterstein|
|6||Tyrone Peachey||Michael Morgan|
|7||James Maloney||Johnathan Thurston (C)|
|8||Trent Merrin||Matthew Scott (C)|
|9||Peter Wallace (C)||Jake Granville|
|10||Reagan Campbell-Gillard||Scott Bolton|
|11||Viliame Kikau||Gavin Cooper|
|12||Corey Harawira-Naera||Coen Hess|
|13||James Fisher-Harris||Jason Taumalolo|
|14||Sione Katoa||Te Maire Martin|
|15||Jack Hetherington||Shaun Fensom|
|16||Moses Leota||Corey Jensen|
|17||James Tamou||Ethan Lowe|
|18||Wayde Egan||Francis Molo|
|19||Nick Lui-Toso||Jake Clifford|
|20||Tom Eisenhuth||Javid Bowen|
|21||Kaide Ellis||Sam Hoare|
The facts that matter
The Cowboys were a side most had tipped to take out the premiership and rightly so. After making the decider in the 2017 edition without rep stars Matt Scott and Jonathan Thurston, it's no surprise that many pundits had them going one better this year. Alas, 2018 just never got going. Despite an opening-round victory against the Sharks, the Cowboys haven't hit their stride and look a shade of the team that featured in last year's decider.
Sure, Jonathan Thurston might be ageing but at 35, he's still better than a lot of the halves getting a run in opposition sides. Injuries to Michael Morgan and Lachlan Coote haven't helped the Cowboy's cause but even then, they have the star power to challenge for the premiership.
No matter what way Paul Green wants to spin it, the Cowboys are in serious trouble. His extended contract negotiations have no doubt had an impact on the playing group. Constant speculation that Green would jump ship to join the Broncos in 2019 has clearly played on the mind of his troops and all of that uncertainty looks to have taken its toll. Despite last weeks loss, Green has stuck solid with the same side that surrendered to the Raiders. It's a big show of confidence but question is - how long does that confidence last if the wins don't come?
What Penrith have achieved this past month has been nothing short of remarkable. With a mounting injury toll, the Panthers had every excuse to drop close games and yet they refuse. A lot of that credit has to go to one man - James Maloney. It was a strong statement releasing local junior Matt Moylan to bring in 31-year-old Maloney, but it's now clear who got the better of that player swap.
In the absence of Nathan Cleary, Maloney has really put his stamp on the Panthers' style of play. In the games since Cleary has been absent, Maloney has racked up 4 try assists, a whopping 13 tackle breaks and proved an unstoppable force on his way to three man-of-the-match performances. Cleary is on track to return in Round 11 but Panther's fans needn't worry - their side is in very capable hands.
Based on form alone, this game should be an easy win for the Panthers. They face a Cowboys side down on confidence and down on form, but that's a dangerous combination - especially for a side that includes Jonathan Thurston. The Cowboys will be hurting after another tame performance at home and that may just spark them to produce something special on Friday night.
Whoever wins the forward battle looks most likely to come out on top in this one and it promises to be an absolute belter up front. Viliame Kikau goes up against Jason Taumalolo in the battle of the big men while Reagan Campbell-Gillard faces off against Coen Hess in an origin sneak preview. The Panthers are far too good to go past at the moment but this game will be a lot closer than most are tipping. Expect the Cowboys to be in this right up to their necks. Penrith by 2.
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