The Panthers and Cowboys come together in a game that may well be repeated in a few weeks in the first week of the finals. As such, both will be gunning for a win. If the Panthers can do it, it will be six in a row and a solid footing in the Top 8. For the Cowboys, a win here will put them that little bit closer towards the Top 4. But after two losses on the trot, any kind of win will be a good one.

LAST TIME OUT

It wasn’t pretty, but they got the job done. Which at the end of the day, will please both the Panthers and their fans. Why? Because after a season of false starts, they are finally in the Top 8. The win over the Wests Tigers showed us glimpses of brilliance but it also showed us a few not so brilliant moments. Its been the story of their season really. But, just like their season so far, they are starting to show more brilliance as the games go on. If only they could get their full-strength team on the field for once.

North Queensland did their best last week in trying circumstances. Losing Antonio Winterstein in the first few minutes resulted in a reshuffle. Not ideal, but manageable. Losing Gavin Cooper a few minutes later? Disaster. A total reshuffle of the team with players out of position for 70 odd minutes and the interchange reduced to only two players. All while playing the gold standard of the NRL, the Melbourne Storm. Credit where its due though, the Cowboys never stopped trying, but they were never really in the game. Even when they hit the lead in the first half, you knew it wasn’t going to last long. Hopefully they have better luck this week.

KEY BATTLE

Both of these players have been forced into being the focal point of their respective team’s attacks due to the absence of the usual main men.

Nathan Cleary has shown that he may well be the next big thing. And the absence of Matt Moylan hasn’t hurt him either. Without the jack-of-all-trades Moylan to help orchestrate and execute Penrith’s attack, the responsibility has fallen on the young shoulders of Cleary. No, he isn’t the finished product just yet. And yes, he does need to take even more control when organising an attacking set of six, but so far he is doing a good job. The Panthers may well be looking his way for direction again this week with Moylan still in doubt to play.

Cowboys halfback Michael Morgan needs to stand up in this game. He doesn’t have Johnathan Thurston beside him to direct traffic, so he has to do it. Unfortunately, it just isn’t natural for Morgan to do this. It also isn’t natural for him to just be a link man. Morgan is at his best when he is running the football and creating opportunities for his teammates around him, either inside or outside him. He sucks in the defenders and allows others to take advantage, if he doesn’t do that himself. He is due for a big one, and the Panthers defence has shown that they can be vulnerable in the middle of the field. Michael, opportunity knocks.

PREDICTION

There is no shortage of motivation for either team here. A win means so much to both. Penrith are still a team in progress even though they have been getting the results. The Cowboys were looking like they had figured out how to win without JT, but then the last two weeks have rocked them. Key injuries certainly haven’t helped, but they have also played the two top teams on the NRL ladder over the last couple of weeks.

There may not be a whole lot between them on Saturday night, but it would surprise if the Cowboys don’t bounce back against a team they have enjoyed success against in the past.

Cowboys by 6

SQUADS

Panthers v Cowboys, Saturday 12 August, 7.30pm at Pepper Stadium

Panthers: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Tyrone Peachey 4. Waqa Blake 5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 6. Tyrone May 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Peter Wallace 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 11. Corey Harawira 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Moses Leota 14. Sione Katoa 15. Bryce Cartwright 16. Tim Browne 17. James Fisher-Harris 18. Matt Moylan 19. Dean Whare 20. Viliame Kikau 21. Sitaleki Akauola

Cowboys: 1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O’Neill 4. Kane Linnett 5. Javid Bowen 6. Te Maire Martin 7. Michael Morgan 8. John Asiata 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Coen Hess 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Ben Hampton 15. Shaun Fensom 16. Corey Jensen 17. Sam Hoare 18. Braeden Uele 19. Kalyn Ponga 20. Patrick Mago 21. Shane Wright