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Panthers crush Cowboys to underline dominance at top of NRL ladder

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Editor
27th May, 2022
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The Panthers have made a definitive statement in their defence of the NRL Premiership, slapping down the North Queensland Cowboys in a dominant performance at BlueBet Stadium.

The Cowboys have fashioned themselves as Premiership contenders in 2022, with statement victories of their own over the Melbourne Storm and the Parramatta Eels, but were put solidly back in their place by a Penrith display that kept them scoreless and, largely, chanceless throughout.

“This is our first go at being premiers,” said Ivan Cleary. “Everyone tells you that everyone gets up when they play you, and that’s exactly what’s happened from the very first game. Our boys have handled that so well.”

The 22-0 scoreline was perhaps generous to North Queensland, who had to tackle for their lives to contain a rampant Penrith, and defended far too much to be effective in attack.

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The first half in particular was remarkably one-sided for a meeting of the top two teams on the ladder. The Panthers had two-thirds of the ball and played almost exclusively in the attacking half of the field, pinning North Queensland back and forcing them to make almost 100 more tackles.

The Cowboys had done well to keep the half time score down to 16-0, and indeed, held that margin until the last ten minutes, but there was always the feeling that the Panthers would eventually cash in.

This was North Queensland’s first trip to Sydney since Round 14 of last year, and they left with a stark reminder of the standards that they will face should they venture back to New South Wales in the latter part of the season.

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“I am disappointed we didn’t fire our best shot,” said Cowboys coach Todd Payten.

“We also weren’t allowed to at different stages (with the way Penrith played). But playing at 58 per cent (completion rate) is not good enough to keep you in the competition.

“I really enjoyed some of our defensive resilience, though. We just looked comfortable for the most part defending.”

They had started with gusto – Valentine Holmes making a line break from the kick off – but it wasn’t long before they were acutely acquainted with the problems that come when facing the Penrith on their own turf.

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The secret to the Panthers attack has been Isaah Yeo as a ball-playing lock, but for the first try of the night, he wasn’t required to pass at all. Api Koroisau darted from dummy half and found his 13, who was able to use his size to cross next to the posts.

Isaah Yeo

(Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

The Panthers might have had a second: they built a preposterous amount of pressure, close to 20 consecutive tackles on the Cowboys line, showed an admirable amount of patience to force repeat after repeat and eventually found Taylan May at the corner.

Unfortunately for Penrith, his dive for the line saw his arm go into touch simultaneously with the ball touching the turf, and the Bunker wiped it off.

As big a bomb as it was from the winger, it was perhaps the slice of luck that the dogged defence – three players held up over the line – deserved.

It didn’t matter much in the long run. That left edge struck again, with Izack Tago breaking down the paint and chucking a speculative pass inside that Dylan Edwards picked up from his bootlaces to score at the corner.

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Penrith’s backline was now motoring. James Fisher-Harris sat Scott Drinkwater on his backside and from the quick play the ball, they worked at maximum efficiency to transition the ball to Brian To’o at the corner.

The Cowboys were frazzled in a way that has rarely been seen from them this season. Twice they made it to the 40m line, and twice they made unforced errors. The possession, now weighted 70/30 against them, was beginning to tell on the brains as well as the bodies.

The Cowboys nearly began the second half in perfect fashion. Holmes thought he was over, but a stray arm from Edwards dislodged the ball and saved the try.

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The Panthers continued to dominate the ball, but played with their food somewhat in attack and couldn’t get through the still-solid defence.

The 16-0 scoreline would have seemed precarious, given the ability of North Queensland to generate quick points, but there was always the suspicion that the Panthers could move up more gears if they needed to.

Moreover, the sheer weight of tackling was impacting the Cowboys’ ability to execute in attack – their completion rate hovered beneath 50 per cent for most of the second half.

It was a minor miracle that it took until the last ten for the Panthers to extend their halftime lead, but with North Queensland tiring, they eventually broke through May on the back of a floated Jarome Luai pass.

The Cowboys did have time to build their first serious pressure of the game late on, but the Panthers were too line proud to let them through.

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