The Panthers and the Cowboys came into this match knowing that a win for either team would be extremely important. For the Panthers, the night was a huge success. As for the Cowboys? Well, they must be wondering when their bad luck is going to end.
Another Week, Another Injury Hit
The Cowboys have had a terrible year with injuries and this continued in this game. After just 13 minutes, State of Origin centre Justin O’Neill dislocated his elbow. The chances of O’Neill returning this season are slim. They could well be non-existent if the Cowboys are unable to keep their place in the Top 8.
Other injury concerns coming out of the game include the immediate health of Michael Morgan after he was heavily concussed trying to make a tackle on Dallin Watene-Zelezniak. Morgan was taken from the field just before halftime and did not return. This was the key moment in this game. Considering the Cowboys had controlled most of the first half and were in front at the break, the absence of Morgan cannot be underestated.
Clearly, It’s Cleary
In the absence of Morgan, Penrith’s Nathan Cleary took over. Cleary’s talent has been on show for the past couple of months but this game is the first time he has really taken over a game. Not only with ball in hand, but in defence as well.
After Taumalolo broke through the Penrith line to make it a 10-point game early in the second half, it would have been easy for the Panthers to drop their heads and allow the Cowboys to take the win. Instead, the Nathan Cleary led Panthers took over.
His first try was off the cuff thanks to a smart kick from Tyrone Peachey, but five minutes later, Cleary stood up to stop the gigantic Coen Hess from scoring and possibly breaking the Panthers resolve. It was easily the play of the game and the Panthers took strength from it. They looked like a different team that moment on and they went on to not only catch up to the Cowboys on the score board, but run away from them.
If they are to threaten in September, Cleary is the key. But the dangerous part is, he can get better.
Can The Cowboys Hang In?
This loss has dropped the Cowboys down to eighth with three rounds left to be played. The Dragons are in position to take that eighth spot as early as next week if they can find a way around the Broncos and the Cowboys fall to the Sharks. But the Dragons aren’t the only ones who now have a sniff of the finals.
Ricky Stuart’s Canberra Raiders are also a chance of sneaking into the Top 8 if they can make every post a winner from here on in. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.
But all of this is a moot point if the Cowboys can manage to score a win or three. You have to think that the health of Morgan is key to all of this, though.
Last season, the Penrith Panthers stormed into the finals after winning seven out of their last eight games to finish 6th. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get past another hot team at the time, the Canberra Raiders. With three rounds left to play, the Panthers can do an even better job than their 2016 effort as they have already won six in a row.
If the Panthers can continue their run, they will be the team everyone else will be looking over their shoulder for. And if they can achieve a run of nine in a row going into the finals, a Top 4 finish may well be waiting for them. And who knows what can happen from there?
Tries: Mansour (22m), Cleary (50m, 74m), Tamou (60m)
Goals: Cleary 4/4
Tries: Linnett (9m), Morgan (28m), Taumalolo (45m)
Goals: Lowe 2/3