The Toyota Cowboys’ four-game winning streak was ended by a gutsy Penrith team who needed a 79th minute field goal from fullback Matt Moylan to secure a 23-22 win at Sportingbet Stadium tonight.
North Queensland trailed 16-6 in the first half but were 18-16 up early in the second 40 on a wet and cold night that was dominated by the play of the two number sevens – Johnathan Thurston for the Cowboys and Jamie Soward for the Panthers.
The Cowboys, who were trying to win three straight away from home, remain in seventh place on the ladder, now four points adrift of the fourth-placed Roosters.
They are on 26 points, level with the NZ Warriors and Parramatta, but with a superior for and against record after 23 rounds.
With Tariq Sims suspended for a week, Gavin Cooper returned to the Cowboys’ starting team for the first time since round 10, while Ethan Lowe gained a start on the interchange bench. For the Panthers, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak replaced David Simmons on the wing. Isaah Yeo was also out, with Matt Robinson starting in the second row and Ben Murdoch-Masila made his Panthers debut from the bench.
It didn’t take long for the Cowboys to pick up from where they left off against their record-breaking feats nine days earlier against Wests Tigers.
A Josh Mansour error from a high ball near his try line opened up the opportunity and Thurston delivered, finding Linnett with a smart pass to his left for the opening points inside the first five minutes.
But any thoughts of a routine win were gone when Jamie Soward linked with young winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who then beat two defenders before finding his halfback for the Panthers’ opening try.
Soward missed the conversion from out wide but added a penalty goal from almost in front to level the score at 6-all by the midway point of the half.
Hampered by a 5-1 penalty count against them, the Cowboys were almost constantly on the back foot and Soward finished off his double, stepping and then twisting over the line in the 27th minute.
The Panthers were ahead for the first time and they should have been six up but Soward missed the conversion from close in.
The ex-Dragon had a large say in the home team’s third.
His high ball was knocked back by Jamal Idris, in a contest with Michael Morgan, to Jeremy Latimore for another four points.
Matt Moylan took over the goalkicking duties and extended Penrith’s lead to 10.
The hitback that the Cowboys needed came two minutes before the break.
A clever ball back inside from Gavin Cooper gave his forward partner Glenn Hall a clear run to the line with JT’s conversion leaving NQ 16-12 behind at half time.
Just like the opening 40, the Cowboys scored first to get the lead.
Robert Lui was the man to close the gap in Close the Gap round, finding a way through the Panthers near the posts to set up JT for the conversion that put North Queensland back in front.
But just when the Cowboys looked to be gaining some control, Soward again turned the game back the Panthers’ way.
He scampered 80 metres after snapping up a loose ball before being brought down by a flying Michael Morgan in partnership with Matt Wright, who was then sin-binned for slowing down the play-the-ball.
In the next set of tackles, a long ball from the Panthers halfback put Mansour over on the wing that Wright normally defends.
Moylan’s conversion from touch was perfect, leaving NQ down by four.
The Cowboys didn’t concede any further points a man down and looked threatening a couple of times, including when a rampaging Jason Taumalolo looked like he could blast his way through.
North Queensland’s match-levelling try came with 12 to go.
Robert Lui lofted a high ball from midfield that Gavin Cooper batted back to Antonio Winterstein, allowing the winger to showcase his speed and one-hand diving put down abilities for his team-high 13th try of 2014.
JT’s conversion attempt from the sideline, into the wind, missed to the left.
The deadlock was broken by Matt Moylan’s field goal with 95 seconds remaining after the Panthers had forced a line dropout in the previous set.
Penrith, now with a six-point lead on the ladder over the Cowboys, ended the night with a superior completion rate – 89% to 74%.
Matt Scott led the NQ metres count with 145 metres, 100 of them after half time, and the tackle count with 38, two more than Gavin Cooper.
Cowboys: 1 Michael Morgan, 2 Tautau Moga, 3 Matthew Wright, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Robert Lui, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matt Scott (c), 9 Rory Kostjasyn, 10 Ashton Sims, 16 Gavin Cooper, 12 Jason Taumalolo, 13 Glenn Hall. Interchange: 14 Ray Thompson, 15 Scott Bolton, 17 Sam Hoare, 18 Ethan Lowe.
Panthers: 1 Matt Moylan, 2 Josh Mansour, 3 Dean Whare, 4 Jamal Idris, 18 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 6 Will Smith, 7 Jamie Soward, 8 Nigel Plum, 9 James Segeyaro, 10 Sam McKendry, 11 Sika Manu, 16 Matt Robinson, 13 Adam Docker. Interchange: 14 Lewis Brown, 15 Jeremy Latimore, 17 Tim Grant, 21 Ben Murdoch-Masila.
Cowboys 22 - Kane Linnett, Glenn Hall, Robert Lui, Antonio Winterstein tries; Johnathan Thurston 3 goals
Panthers 23 - Jamie Soward 2, Jeremy Latimore, Josh Mansour tries; Matt Moylan 2 goals, Jamie Soward goal; Matt Moylan field goal