A gritty Panthers outfit have slumped to a narrow 14-12 defeat at the hands of the Cowboys in Townsville.
A late try from Kyle Feldt stole victory for the hosts in a tightly-contested affair that saw the lead change three times in the last fifteen minutes.
A heavy shot on Matt Moylan forced the ball free and afforded the home side first crack at the opposition line, leading to a Bunker referral in the fifth minute. A kick from Kyle Laybutt caused panic near the Panthers goal line and resulted in John Asiata scoring, however it was ruled out after a knock on from Michael Morgan.
Instead, it would be the visitors who opened the scoring through Corey Harawira-Naera in the 9th minute. Moylan recovered from his early knock and steered traffic in Laybutt’s direction, getting on his outside and putting Harawira-Naera through a gaping hole to stroll over untouched. Cleary continued his impressive form with the boot this season by adding the extras to make it 6-0.
Errors and penalties stifled each side’s attack as opportunities slipped through the fingers in promising positions. Back-to-back penalties handed the Cowboys prime position to add points to the scoreboard before an error from Coen Hess relieved pressure on the Panthers. The Panthers would return the favour with consecutive attacking sets ending in forward passes.
With five minutes left in the half the Cowboys looked to have broken their way through a stubborn Panthers defence but for two last ditched tackles from Harawira-Naera and Leilani Latu.
Hess charged to the line and was destined to cross over but for the Panthers pair halting the charging backrower centimetres short. Latu then rushed off the line and caught Lachlan Coote in possession to turn the ball over and allow the Panthers to take a 6-0 lead in to the break.
HALF-TIME: North Queensland Cowboys 0 – 6 Penrith Panthers
The pattern continued after the restart with the Cowboys throwing everything in their locker at the Panthers line, eventually breaking through just shy of the hour thanks to Corey Jensen. An offload from Michael Morgan close to the line caught the defence off-guard and allowed for Jensen to scramble over the line. Ethan Lowe added the extras to bring the home side level.
Moments later they would have the lead after Mitch Rein was tangled in a tackle, allowing Lowe to slot his second goal in a matter of minutes to make it 8-6.
A penalty of their own would allow the Panthers to regain the lead after 65 minutes. Cleary exploited the time and space at his disposal on the right side by darting to the line and sliding his way over, before converting his own try to make it 12-8.
The referees whistle continued to get a work out, this time handing the Cowboys an opportunity to edge ahead in the 77th minute. A cross-field kick from Morgan sat up perfectly for Kyle Feldt to rise above Josh Mansour and bring his side level, before Lowe’s kick from the sideline put them in front 14-12.
A short restart from Edwards handed the Panthers one last chance to muster another miracle win at the death but they would fall just short, succumbing to a heartbreaking two-point loss.
FULL-TIME: North Queensland Cowboys 14 – 12 Penrith Panthers