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Panthers v Cowboys: Big guns return; Hess to start

The Cowboys will need to conquer arguably the toughest challenge in the NRL and beat the Panthers in Penrith if they are to play finals football in 2023, while the defending premiers could go into the game still in the race for the minor premiership.

While North Queensland aren’t totally in control of their own destiny, it all starts with having to win on Saturday night to give themselves a chance of playing beyond the regular season. 

If they can beat Penrith and the Rabbitohs lose to the Roosters then North Queensland are probably through, while they could still make it if the Rabbitohs win and Raiders lose to the Sharks. 

The Panthers meanwhile will know well before kick-off if they are still in the race for the minor premiership, requiring a Broncos loss to the Storm to be any chance of winning the J.J Giltinan Shield for a second-straight year.

Either way Ivan Cleary’s charges will be eager to bounce back after being upset by the Eels last week to suffer their first defeat since a golden point loss to the Cowboys way back in mid-June.  

North Queensland have one of the better recent records against the Panthers, having won both of their previous two meetings, but at BlueBet Stadium this season Penrith have lost just twice, while prior to last week they were undefeated there since Round 1.

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Team News

Panthers: Luke Garner will start the game and Zac Hosking goes to the bench in a game day switch. Centre Izack Tago was added to the run-on side on Friday as he returns from the leg injury that has sidelined him since Round 20. Tyrone Peachey goes back to the bench. Scott Sorensen will miss another week.

Dylan Edwards, Sunia Turuva and Mitch Kenny are all back on deck after being rested in Round 26. Jack Cogger replaces the injured Jarome Luai (shoulder) having been a regular in the side since Round 14 in various roles. 

Cowboys: A late change on game day sees Coen Hess named to start at prop and skipper Jason Taumalolo shifting back to the bench. Rookie Zac Laybutt holds his place in the centres on the back of a two-try haul in his third NRL game. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown is 18th Man for the third week running. Edge forward Jeremiah Nanai remains sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Team Lists


  • Fullback for Panthers is number 1 Dylan Edwards
    Fullback for Cowboys is number 1 Scott Drinkwater
  • Winger for Panthers is number 2 Sunia Turuva
    Winger for Cowboys is number 2 Kyle Feldt
  • Centre for Panthers is number 4 Stephen Crichton
    Centre for Cowboys is number 3 Zac Laybutt
  • Centre for Panthers is number 19 Izack Tago
    Centre for Cowboys is number 4 Peta Hiku
  • Winger for Panthers is number 5 Brian To'o
    Winger for Cowboys is number 5 Murray Taulagi
  • Five-Eighth for Panthers is number 6 Jack Cogger
    Five-Eighth for Cowboys is number 6 Tom Dearden
  • Halfback for Panthers is number 7 Nathan Cleary
    Halfback for Cowboys is number 7 Chad Townsend


  • Prop for Panthers is number 8 Moses Leota
    Prop for Cowboys is number 8 Jordan McLean
  • Hooker for Panthers is number 9 Luke Sommerton
    Hooker for Cowboys is number 9 Reece Robson
  • Prop for Panthers is number 10 James Fisher-Harris
    Prop for Cowboys is number 15 Coen Hess
  • 2nd Row for Panthers is number 12 Liam Martin
    2nd Row for Cowboys is number 11 Luciano Leilua
  • 2nd Row for Panthers is number 21 Luke Garner
    2nd Row for Cowboys is number 12 Heilum Luki
  • Lock for Panthers is number 13 Isaah Yeo
    Lock for Cowboys is number 13 Reuben Cotter


  • Interchange for Panthers is number 3 Tyrone Peachey
    Interchange for Cowboys is number 10 Jason Taumalolo
  • Interchange for Panthers is number 15 Lindsay Smith
    Interchange for Cowboys is number 14 Jake Granville
  • Interchange for Panthers is number 16 Spencer Leniu
    Interchange for Cowboys is number 16 Griffin Neame
  • Interchange for Panthers is number 17 Zac Hosking
    Interchange for Cowboys is number 17 Kulikefu Finefeuiaki


  • Replacement for Panthers is number 18 Jaeman Salmon
    Replacement for Cowboys is number 18 Jamayne Taunoa-Brown

Match Officials

  • Referee: Todd Smith
  • Touch Judge: Peter Gough
  • Touch Judge: Jon Stone
  • Senior Review Official: Chris Butler

Last updated:

Stat Attack

  • In-form Cowboys fullback Scott Drinkwater has laid on 31 linebreaks this year, more than any other player.
  • Despite sitting out last week, Panthers No.1 Dylan Edwards still boasts over 500 run metres more than the next best in the competition, with his 5,594 putting him well ahead of Addin Fonua-Blake’s 4,082.
  • The Panthers have not lost consecutive games at BlueBet Stadium since 2019.
  • The Cowboys have not won at BlueBet Stadium since 2016.
  • Panthers winger Brian To’o has scored 14 tries from his past 10 games at BlueBet Stadium.
  • Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt has scored nine tries from 12 games against the Panthers.
  • Panthers centre Tyrone Peachey has scored eight tries in his past 10 games.

Stats supplied by David Middleton, League Information Services, author of the official annual of the NRL.

Acknowledgement of Country

Penrith Panthers players and staff respect and honour the traditional custodians of the land and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.