1. Cowboys epitomise the meaning of courageous
One thing the crowd of 12,357 were treated to was a wholehearted display from the men up north. They fought gallantly despite their injury list including Gavin Cooper, Antonio Winterstein, Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott. Joining them is Maroons Origin centre Justin O’Neill, who hyper-extended his elbow. O’Neill will probably miss the rest of the season while Cooper and Winterstein are reportedly unlikely to return for at least another fortnight.
The Cowboys completed the match with only 15 fit players so there was an obvious need for a reshuffle. Coen Hess and Ethan Lowe played in the centres, forcing Kane Linnett onto the wing, while interchange prop John Asiata replaced the concussed Michael Morgan at half-back in the first half. Asiata demonstrated his playmaking ability by sending the powerful Jason Taumalolo over for a try early in the second half.
Hooker Jake Granville and underrated prop Scott Bolton both required head injury assessments while former Panther Lachlan Coote received treatment on his leg. The trio were able to see out the match with Cowboys coach Paul Green hailing his side’s effort.
“[We had] blokes playing out of position but it was a courageous effort and we hung in there,” said Green. “They didn’t roll over and kept competing. I was really proud of the character and it showed plenty of times. While you’ve got that you’ve got a chance in any game you play.”
2. Panthers still yet to click into gear
Despite Penrith emerging with a 24-16 scoreline for their sixth win in a row, the Panthers still haven’t produced a complete performance. There were numerous times where the Panthers had opted for the wrong option on the fifth tackle, such as when Reagan Campbell-Gillard kicked the ball dead on the last tackle. Several players were caught in possession on the last tackle, handing possession and territory back to the Cowboys.
Panthers coach Anthony Griffin had said after his side defeated the Tigers last week that this was an area which required fixing by the Panthers, and it showed again in this match. “We were a little bit messy there again,” admitted Griffin.
However, this can be seen as a scary prospect for the Raiders, Dragons and Sea Eagles, all of whom are up against the Panthers in the upcoming weeks. The Panthers have consolidated their winning streak to continue their momentum into the coming weeks and finals series. Moreover, the Panthers can find consistency across a full 80 minutes then they could go deep into the finals.
The Panthers now travel to the GIO Stadium to face Canberra, who eliminated them in the semi-finals last year at the same venue. Penrith will be keen to keep their run of form going and exact revenge on the Raiders after the 2017 heartbreak.
3. Try-saving turning point
Leading 16-12 in the second half, the Cowboys were presented with a golden chance to extend their advantage after Penrith coughed up possession on their own line. A few passes later, the ball found young second-rower Hess, who only had Panthers half-back Nathan Cleary between himself and the line. Hess has earned himself a reputation for scoring tries even if under the attention of multiple defenders this year. Surely Hess would have no trouble scoring a try with only Cleary making the tackle, right?
The game was on the line and Cleary stepped up to the plate to demonstrate maturity beyond his years with a magnificent try-saving tackle. The tackle proved to be the turning point as Penrith wrestled the momentum from the injury-hit Cowboys. Although it took a try from Cleary in the 75th minute to seal victory, the Panthers dominated territory, line breaks and metres gained from that point onwards.
4. Cleary is a future NSW half-back
Given incumbent NSW Origin half-back Mitchell Pearce has spent the best part of a decade in the number seven jersey with no series victories to his name, he may well be replaced sooner rather than later. Pearce has struggled to step up in Origin moments where he is needed most, as shown in this series when game two was there for the taking.
Should Pearce be axed in the coming years, Cleary has showed his worth as a potential replacement. In this match alone he scored two tries, prevented a certain score at the other end and performed a playmaking masterclass. He would also give NSW another goal kicking option, given his role as first choice kicker for the Panthers.
5. Cowboys have an increasing injury toll
Thurston and Scott are already out for the season while O’Neill won’t play again until the finals, should North Queensland make them. Cooper and Winterstein won’t be available to help with that challenge in the next fortnight while Morgan and Coote are both doubts for next weekend.
The next few weeks will provide astronomical tests for the Cowboys. It all begins next week with their injury-hit side returning to Townsville to face reigning Premiers Cronulla.
What were your highlights from the Panthers’ sixth win in a row? Let us know in the comments below.
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