The Penrith Panthers head west to Bathurst to take on the North Queensland Cowboys. The Cowboys are 15th on the ladder and will be desperate for a win.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
The Panthers were solid if not brilliant in their win against the Bulldogs a week ago. They looked in danger in the first half after Dylan Edwards went off injured, with the Bulldogs running in two quick tries. A much better defensive effort in the second half meant they were able to grind out a 22-14 win. James Maloney continues to play well in the absence of Nathan Cleary. If he can keep up his form when Cleary returns the Panthers could be dangerous.
North Queensland Cowboys
Many thought the round seven win over Titans might turn around the Cowboys’ season, however they weren’t able to carry that momentum, losing 18-8 to the Raiders in a poor showing. They had plenty of opportunities, owning 56% of possession, and forcing four drop outs, but they were only able to score one try.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak moves to fullback with Dylan Edwards set to miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, with Tyrone Phillips making his club debut on the wing. Isaah Yeo and Corey Harawira-Naera swap, with Yeo moving to centre and Harawira-Naera into the back row while Peter Wallace returns to starting hooker, pushing Sione Katoa to the bench and Wayde Egan into the reserves.
North Queensland Cowboys
The Cowboys remain unchanged after last week’s loss to the Raiders.
The Panthers and Cowboys meet for the second time this season after the Panthers cruised to a 33-14 win in round four at Townsville, on the back of an impressive Maloney. The Cowboys will be out for revenge, and the Panthers can’t be complacent.
Nobody can put a finger on why the Cowboys are struggling so much this season. They still boast one of the best rosters in the competition, so you know they could turn it around at any time. They need their big-name players to step up, in particular Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo. After these two almost carried them to an unlikely premiership, they have so far been well below their best.
The Panthers have been forced to deal with a number of injuries already but have still been able to grind out six wins. They will be without Dylan Edwards, who up to this point had been one of their best, so pressure will be high on his replacement Watene-Zelezniak. Time will tell whether all the injuries will be too much for the Panthers to handle.
Cowboys coach Paul Green has said his team need to start getting some wins, otherwise he will be forced to make changes. Panthers coach Anthony Griffin has been pleased with his team’s performances, given all the changes they have been forced to make already due to injuries. To be sitting second on the ladder with a number of key players missing at different times, particularly in their back line, is an incredible effort.
It’s hard to go past the battle of the halfbacks. Most people expected the Panthers to struggle without Nathan Cleary but Maloney’s been in stellar form without his halves partner, only losing one game in his absence.
Johnathan Thurston hasn’t been at his absolute best, however he’s still the Cowboys’ most important player. He currently sits second in the competition for try assists and third for linebreak assists so it’s obvious he’s still creating plenty of scoring opportunities, and the Panthers know they will need to shut him down on Friday night.
The Cowboys are averaging just 15.5 points per game, a number coach Paul Green knows will need to increase if they want to play September footy.
Panthers: 1 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 2 Christian Crichton, 3 Isaah Yeo, 4 Dean Whare, 5 Tyrone Phillips, 6 Tyrone Peachey, 7 James Maloney, 8 Trent Merrin, 9 Peter Wallace, 10 Reagen Campbell-Gillard, 11 Viliame Kikau, 12 Corey Harawira-Naera, 13 James Fisher-Harris
Interchange: 14 Sione Katoa, 15 Jack Hetherington, 16 Moses Leota, 17 James Tamou
Reserves: 18 Wayde Egan, 19 Nick Lui-Toso, 20 Tom Eisenhuth, 21 Kaide Ellis
Cowboys: 1 Lachlan Coote, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O’Neill, 4 Ben Hampton, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Michael Morgan, 7 Johnathan Thurston, 8 Matthew Scott, 9 Jake Granville, 10 Scott Bolton, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Coen Hess, 13 Jason Taumalolo
Interchange: 14 Te Maire Martin, 15 Shaun Fensom, 16 Corey Jensen, 17 Ethan Lowe
Reserves: 18 Francis Molo, 19 Jake Clifford, 20, Javid Bowen, 21 Sam Hoare
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday 4th May
Venue: Carrington Park
Kick-off: 7:55pm (AEDT)
WHO WILL WIN?
This is an extremely important game for the Cowboys, needing a win to stay in touch with the top eight. However they aren’t playing good enough footy to beat a solid Panthers side. Despite all their injuries, the Panthers should be too strong.
Penrith Panthers by 10