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Hostplus Match Preview: Round 23

John Shamon

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The race to the finals continues this Saturday night at Pepper Stadium when North Queensland Cowboys travel south to take on a resurgent Panthers.

Back-to-back losses and injuries to key personnel for the Cowboys has put them in a precarious position on the ladder. With a less than ideal run home standing in their way, their hopes of maintaining their position in the top half of the ladder remain in the balance.

They come up against a Panthers side that have strung five wins together to catapult in to the top eight despite missing the services of Matt Moylan (hamstring) and Trent Merrin (knee) for much of their run.

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Anthony Griffin has named an unchanged line-up to the side that swept aside the Tigers 28-14 last Sunday with Moylan named in the reserves as he battles to overcome the injury that has sidelined him over the past fortnight.

Tyrone May continues to deputise in the number six jersey after his impressive start to life in the NRL. The Panthers junior has scored twice to compliment his perfect 3-0 record since making his debut against the Warriors a month ago.

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Having been without stalwarts Matt Scott (knee) and Johnathan Thurston (shoulder) for much of the season, the Cowboys were dealt a further blow in their loss against the Storm last weekend with stand-in skipper Gavin Cooper (calf) and Antonio Winterstein (hamstring) joining them on the sidelines.

Javid Bowen comes in as a direct replacement for Winterstein, while Coen Hess comes off the bench to start in place of Cooper with Ben Hampton recalled to the interchange bench. Former Panther Te Maire Martin lines up against his old side in the halves alongside Michael Morgan in the continued absence of Thurston.

The history of this fixture tips in favour of the Panthers having won 18 of their 34 games between each other but the Cowboys have the wood over the Panthers in recent times winning seven of the past eight.

The Panthers looked on course to end their torrid run in Townsville but for a soaring effort from Kyle Feldt snatching a 14-12 victory in the final moments of their Round 16 clash earlier this year.

Tries to Corey Harawira-Naera and Nathan Cleary, plus a staunch defensive effort, looked to have done enough to hold out the fast-finishing Cowboys but Feldt’s effort and Ethan Lowe’s sideline conversion broke Panthers hearts to seal the win.

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