Late points were enough to see the reigning premiers North Queensland sneak past the Panthers 23-18 at Pepper Stadium on Saturday.
The Panthers started the game with a DWZ double and lead the match with 15 minutes to go, but were overcome by the fast-finishing North Queensland. A Lachlan Coote field goal split the 72nd minute deadlock and gave the visiting side their fourth win of the season.
Penrith benefited from a kick-deflection in the 7th minute, with the ball coming off Bryce Cartwright’s leg before he scooped up the ball to take off downfield. The impressive streak ended with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak fending off Johnathan Thurston on two separate occasions before running in for his first try of the season. The good start for Penrith continued when Jamie Soward kicked the conversion to make the lead 6-0 after nine minutes.
Some gritty defence followed the opening try and it paid dividends when Matt Scott’s offload was dropped putting the home side quickly back on the attack.
In the 15th minute, they shifted the ball to the right side of the field and a quick spread from Peter Wallace down the blind allowed Bryce Cartwright to put DWZ over in the corner for his second. Soward was unable to convert from the sideline and the Panthers’ lead remained at 10-0.
North Queensland earned a contentious repeat set in the 21st minute when they dragged Peta Hiku off the ground and back into the in-goal. However, the defence stuck solid and Isaah Yeo put a foot to a Thurston kick, giving possession back to the Panthers.
A penalty immediately pushed the Panthers up field and they looked dangerous in the repeat set scooting towards the try-line with a number of offloads. It wasn’t to be though, with the Cowboys pushing Josh Mansour over the sideline.
The man dubbed the ‘next mango’ – Javid Bowen – sliced through the Panthers defence in the 25th minute to put the visitors on the scoreboard. Thurston made sure of it and brought the score back to 10-6.
Despite having their chances to extend the lead in the first half, a number of errors left the Panthers working overdrive in defence.
After conceding two penalties inside their own 20-metre line, they succumbed to the Cowboys possession with Justin O’Neill scoring on the end of a smooth play. Thurston’s conversion had the Cowboys leading 12-10 with four minutes until halftime.
Halftime: Panthers 10 Cowboys 12
A simple dropped-ball from the Cowboys just a few minutes into the second half had the Panthers pressing early to reclaim the lead.
They went about their business and the end-of-the-set kick was put across to DWZ. The winger couldn’t grab hold of the ball, but his knee collected Cowboys’ halfback Johnathan Thurston’s head in the leap in what looked like it could keep the playmaker down.
Shortly after, Penrith were handed a pair of penalties on the halfway line, pushing them quickly downfield. The advantage was evident when Trent Merrin ran in under the posts to reclaim the lead. Soward’s conversion made it 16-12 after 56 minutes.
Josh Mansour and Lachlan Coote ignited an old friendship after Mansour gave Kyle Feldt a face rub and it had the two sides at each other’s collars. A penalty soon after gave Penrith the opportunity to extend their lead and they took it with Soward sending a kick over to the make the lead 16-10.
North Queensland struck back with Gavin Cooper barging through the Penrith defence to force a try in the 65th minute. Thurston’s conversion had the sides on level-pegging at 18-all.
The came look to be entering a nail bitting last 15 minutes, and the 13,725 fans at Pepper Stadium were nervously waiting for a breakthrough.
A monster hit from Trent Merrin in the 71st minute wasn’t enough to stop the Cowboys’ momentum as they scurried downfield. Jason Taumalolo looked to have bagged a try, but the ball came loose and Te Maire Martin grounded the ball in the in-goal.
Penrith absorbed the Cowboys’ pressure but in the 72rd minute Lachlan Coote stepped off his right-foot to kick with his left, and landed a field goal.
With the game slipping away from them, Penrith threw the ball around in an effort to make something happen. After setting up 30 metres out, Soward couldn’t get a clean shot for a field goal and ran the ball down the left side hoping to produce an overlap. It came, but Josh Mansour was driven over the sideline by ex-Panther Lachlan Coote.
Soward had another brave crack at the field-goal in the 78th minute but it went slightly to the right.
The defending-premiers showed their class at the culmination, capping off the match with a try to Kyle Feldt to leave the match at 23-18 to the Cowboys.
Fulltime: Panthers 18 Cowboys 23