North Queensland would have to go in as favourites this week after their stunning 30-12 win over South Sydney in Townsville, fuelled by a turbulent week that saw Neil Henry axed and the players responded in no better way than to thump the competition heavyweights.
Penrith’s purple patch of seven wins in ten matches is now a distant memory with consecutive losses to Newcastle, Cronulla and the Sydney Roosters where they’ve leaked 112 points in only scoring thirty. Ivan Cleary’s battle wearied squad is once again facing an injury crisis with at least seven regular players out indefinitely. Broken hands to Sika Manu and Adam Docker have come at no worse time as the Panthers go in for the fight of their lives.
The Cowboys have class across the field. Matt Bowen’s time at the Townsville club may be only four weeks away from ending, but the ex-Origin player is determined to win a contract extension. Bowen still has plenty to offer for the Cowboys. He joins Brent Tate, Kane Linnett and Antionio Winterstein in the backline that’s capable of piling on the points. Jonathon Thurston’s career record speaks for itself and the front row pairing of James Tamou and Matt Scott are International quality. The underperforming Cowboys poor away record of three wins in ten matches could be a reason to tip against the Queensland club.
Despite the injuries that dominate the Panthers late season, Dean Whare and Dave Simmons pairing out wide has been solid. Simmons added another try to his already impressive tally of sixteen. Sadly this seems the best attacking option for the Panthers right now as they haven’t been able to dominate in the forwards to allow room for Isaac John and Luke Walsh to create opportunities. Since the Nigel Plum injury the Panthers have struggled to make yards and put the opposition under defensive pressure. Tim Grant has struggled to step up and Kevin Kingston has gone missing since his contract extension was granted. There’s no doubt Ryan Simpkins will play will try hard and tackle his heart out, and off-contract Nathan Smith will be champing at the bit after a layoff through injury. This week someone, anyone will need to step up and play out of their skin to get the Panthers over the line.
Clutching at thin straws – the fact Penrith have won their last two games against North Queensland at home and if they are any hope of winning they must shut down Thurston and muscle up in the forwards. For Panther fans they can only hope this team can produce they type of performance that got them victory over the Storm.