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It was far from convincing, but the Panthers have won their sixth game in a row, taking down a depleted Cowboys side 24-16 at Pepper Stadium this evening.
North Queensland started the game strongly, enjoying almost all of their possession at the Panthers' end of the field. Several attacking opportunities went begging, with the returning Matt Moylan's positional play proving the lifesaver on a number of occasions.
The first of the Cowboys' injury woes began in the third minute, with play being held up for several minutes as Shaun Fensom received treatment for a leg injury. Visibily uncomfortable upon returning to the defensive line, Fensom failed to have much effect on the match, and was targeted in the early stages by the Panthers' halves.
A nasty elbow dislocation to Justin O'Neill in the 13th minute ended his night, with the forward-heavy Cowboys forced to push Lowe out into the centres to accommodate.
Next was a head injury to Linnett, forced off the field for a Head Injury Assessment. He returned to the game, but his absence created even more headaches for an already pressured Cowboys side.
It wasn't until the 21st minute that the Panthers opened their account, as Josh Mansour took advantage of some lazy middle defensive to hole-run his way to the line. Cleary nailed the conversion from straight in front, and the home side took the lead.
The Cowboys hit back a few minutes later, with a well placed kick from Jake Granville hitting the post and bouncing into Michael Morgan's arms. This time Ethan Lowe made no mistake with the conversion, and the Cowboys went to 10-6 in front.
The last few minutes of the first half were expensive for the Cowboys, with first Granville going off the field for an HIA, followed by Michael Morgan just before half time, as he hit his head on the ground after a strong run from Dallin Watene Zelezniak.
The Panthers went to the break trailing 10-6, with Michael Morgan confirmed to be ruled out of the rest of the game during the half time break.
The second half started with more points to the Cowboys, with Jason Taumalolo crashing through in the 46th minute. With a sucessful conversion the Cowboys jumped out to ten points clear.
But it was only a matter of time before injuries started to catch up to the North Queensland side. Their chances were further crueled by a late knee injury to Lachlan Coote, who stayed on the field - either through bravery or a lack of options.
The Panthers weren't without their stars, with Cleary shining in both attack and defence, while Regan Campbell-Gillard led the way from the front, running for over 200 metres and making almost 40 tackles.
For a Cowboys side already missing heavyweights Johnatha Thurston, Matt Scott, Gavin Cooper, Antonio Winterstein and Te Maire Martin, tonight's injuries to Michael Morgan and Lachlan Coote will cause problems for coach Paul Green in the lead up to the finals.
The Panthers' win pushes them further into the top eight, while the Cowboys hang on to eighth position.
Penrith Panthers 24 - North Queensland Cowboys 16
Venue: Panthers Stadium
Halftime Score: Penrith Panthers 6 North Queensland Cowboys 10
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Nathan Cleary
2 points - Jason Taumalolo
1 points - Dylan Edwards
PENRITH PANTHERS (24)
Tries: Josh Mansour, Nathan Cleary (2), James Tamou
Conversions: Nathan Cleary (4/4)
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS (16)
Tries: Kane Linnett, Michael Morgan, Jason Taumalolo
Conversions: Ethan Lowe (2/3)