Jem Nash previews the round 19 clash between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Penrith Panthers as the mountain men look to seal the minor premiership.
North Queensland Cowboys
The Cowboys are simply playing for pride at this point in the 2020 season. They’ve shown glimpses of their potential this year, but have largely been disappointing. After a thrilling Golden Point win over the Dragons in round 17, they were well and truly outclassed by a superior Storm side last week, despite a late comeback. It will be a huge shock if they’re able to take down the ladder-leading Panthers this weekend.
The Panthers just keep on rolling and have both hands firmly on the minor premiership. They were able to avenge their only loss of the season as they took care of the Eels last week. The Panthers dominated every single stat in that clash, but some poor control, particularly in the first half, cost them an even bigger win. If they can improve their discipline this weekend, they could really pile on the points against the Cowboys.
North Queensland Cowboys
1 Valentine Holmes 2 Kyle Feldt 3 Murray Taulagi 4 Esan Marsters 5 Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 6 Scott Drinkwater 7 Jake Clifford 8 Corey Jensen 9 Reuben Cotter 10 Jordan McLean 11 Gavin Cooper 12 Mitchell Dunn 13 Francis Molo 14 Daejarn Asi 15 Emry Pere 16 Tom Gilbert 17 Ben Condon 18 Jason Taumalolo 19 Jake Granville 20 Peter Hola 21 Ben Hampton.
Corey Jensen starts at prop with Francis Molo moving to lock to replace the suspended Josh McGuire, while Murray Taulagi slots in at centre in place of Justin O’Neill. Emre Pere and debutant Ben Condon come onto the bench, with John Asiata also out suspended.
1 Dylan Edwards 2 Josh Mansour 3 Brent Naden 4 Stephen Crichton 5 Brian To’o 6 Jarome Luai 7 Nathan Cleary 8 Moses Leota 9 Mitch Kenny 10 James Fisher-Harris 11 Viliame Kikau 12 Liam Martin 13 Isaah Yeo 14 Tyrone May 15 Spencer Leniu 16 Kurt Capewell 17 Jack Hetherington 18 Dean Whare 19 Billy Burns 20 Matt Burton 21 Charlie Staines.
Apisai Koroisau, James Tamou and Zane Tetevano are all being rested, with Mitch Kenny at hooker. Moses Leota moves into the starting side and Kurt Capewell and Jack Hetherington are named on the bench.
The last time these two teams met (in round 10 this year), the Panthers spent some rare minutes behind on the scoreboard, before charging home for a 22-10 win. Each side has three wins apiece in their last six clashes.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Jake Clifford vs Nathan Cleary
The heir apparent to Johnathan Thurston hasn’t quite lived up to his potential so far during his short NRL career, but the Cowboys will need a big game from Clifford if they are to be any chance in this game. He’s shown flashes of what he’s capable of, but going up against the form half of the competition in Nathan Cleary will not be easy.
Many doubted Cleary’s ability heading into the season, but he has shut all that down during a stellar 2020 campaign. The current NSW halfback has led the Panthers from the front, and has been in complete control the entire season. He has 13 try assists to his name and has one of the best kicking games in the competition. The Panthers look near unstoppable heading into finals and Cleary is one of the main reasons why.
Panthers by 14.
Date: Friday, September 18.
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium.