The Panthers secured the 2020 NRL Minor Premiership with a commanding 32-12 victory over North Queensland Cowboys at QCB Stadium on Friday.
The Panthers were dominant from start to finish, strangling the Cowboys out of the contest to seal the club’s third minor premiership, having also finished 1st in 1991 and 2003. The 20-point victory also sees the Panthers extend their club record winning streak to 14 games.
Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai terrorised the Cowboys all night with their magnificent kicking games, while Viliame Kikau and Stephen Crichton were also very impressive. The pair each scored a try, as did Luai, Brian To’o, Josh Mansour and Brent Naden.
With the minor premiership on the line, a determined Panthers outfit came flying out of the blocks and scored three tries within 15 minutes to take a 14-0 lead.
Dylan Edwards created the Panthers’ first try in the 3rd minute with a superb piece of skill. Attacking the short-side, Edwards smoothly dodged a defender before rolling a grubber to the corner for Brian To’o to pounce.
Edwards sets up opening four-pointer in Townsville
Hooker Mitch Kenny set up another short-side raid in the 10th minute, and another try came from it. Storming down the left edge, Viliame Kikau broke away from three defenders and then offloaded on his inside to send Stephen Crichton over the line.
Kikau slices through and finds Crichton in support
Jarome Luai put the Panthers straight back on the attack when caught the Cowboys’ kick-off out on the full, and took full advantage of the field position.
Luai put one of his signature left-footed grubbers to the in-goal with Stephen Crichton racing through. Crichton was taken off the ball, but Josh Mansour did not give up on the play as he pounced on the ball for a try to make it 14-0.
Mansour by a blade of grass
Viliame Kikau had been terrorising the Cowboys, but he went a step too far in the 27th minute when he was placed on report for a high shot.
The Cowboys looked set to go on the attack after forcing a dropout in the 34th minute, before Nathan Cleary’s clever short drop out was batted down by Stephen Crichton for Josh Mansour to take possession.
The Panthers went marching upfield, where Crichton’s aerial prowess was employed once again for a try in the 33rd minute.
On the last tackle, Nathan Cleary spun the ball cross-field for Jarome Luai to put up a towering bomb. Crichton rose above Kyle Feldt to pluck out the ball, and then delivered a one-handed offload for Luai to finish off a spectacular Panthers try.
Luai provides the kick and looms up in support
Nathan Cleary landed his conversion attempt, and the Panthers took a 20-point lead into the break.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 20 – COWBOYS 0
The Cowboys went on the attack in the opening moments of the second half. But once again the Panthers absorbed the pressure, came up with possession, and rolled upfield to score.
It came through yet another kick, as Nathan Cleary’s chip over the Cowboys defence was gobbled up by Viliame Kikau, who slammed it down for a try.
Cleary’s conversion extended the Panthers lead to 26 points after 44 minutes.
Kikau leaps above the pack and spins over
There was no way the Panthers were going to lose from that point, but they remained relentless in defence. The Cowboys came awfully close to scoring on two occasions through Mitch Dunn and Reuben Cotter, but some great last-ditch defensive efforts by Dylan Edwards, Stephen Crichton and Tyrone May kept the Cowboys scoreless.
But there was little the Panthers could do when Kurt Capewell had the ball knocked from his grasp after defusing a kick, and the ball bounced up for Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow to score.
Valentine Holmes converted to make it 26-6 with 18 minutes remaining.
Shortly after Brent Naden was stopped just short of the line when he latched onto a kick by Cleary, the pair linked up for a wonderful long-range try in the 66th minute.
Nathan Cleary set sail down the right wing after a smart offload by Stephen Crichton inside his own half, and the halfback threw a long pass to Brent Naden on his inside. The centre streaked away to score, putting an exclamation point on a ruthless attacking display by the Panthers.
Cleary then topped it off by adding the extras, putting the Panthers up by 26 points.
The Cowboys were putting up a courageous fight, and pulled one back in the 69th minute when Scott Drinkwater’s excellent cut-out pass sent Kyle Feldt over in the corner.
The Cowboys pushed for another try in the closing stages, before a cross-field kick was plucked out by Kurt Capewell, wrapping up a 20-point victory which ensures the Panthers finish the regular season on top of the NRL ladder.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 32 – COWBOYS 12