The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys are firmly entrenched in the NRL’s top four with a heart-stopping 23-18 come-from-behind win against the Panthers in Penrith tonight.
Down 18-12 with 15 minutes left, the Cowboys levelled with a try to Gavin Cooper and subsequent conversion by Johnathan Thurston.
Fullback Lachlan Coote hit the go-ahead field goal in the 72nd minute with Kyle Feldt scoring at the death for the final result.
The Cowboys led narrowly at the half, 12-10, but surrendered that in the 53rd minute as Trent Merrin saluted.
The man with the unwieldy name, Penrith right-side winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, proved just as difficult for the Cowboys to handle in the first half, scoring a brace of tries that couldn’t have been more different.
The first, on seven minutes, was an epic 95m raid involving back-rower Bryce Cartwright, who pounced on a bobbling Lachlan Coote kick to race away, finding Watene-Zelezniak, on to Te Maire Martin then back to the winger, who fended off a desperate Johnathan Thurston to score.
DWZ’s second at the 14-minute mark caught the Cowboys seriously napping on the blind side as a simple passing exchange had him go over virtually untouched.
Having been one of the players responsible for letting in that second Panthers try, second-gamer Javid Bowen made amends 11 minutes later when he crossed for a try following some slick ball movement involving Thurston and Coote.
Bowen spun around in the tackle to slide over and the 23-year-old nephew of club legend Matthew had two tries in as many NRL matches after scoring on debut in round 5 against the Dragons.
ERRORS, DESPERATE DEFENCE AND PENALTIES
Two drop balls at crucial moments were thankfully not punished as the Cowboys, holding a slender half-time lead, consistently invited the Panthers back into the contest.
Scott Bolton and then Michael Morgan made uncharacteristic fumbles in dangerous areas of the field, but the Panthers were unable to take full advantage, with the Cowboys’ scrambling defence working overtime.
The visitors weren’t so lucky the next time Penrith charged down the field as, on the back of successive penalties, they scored courtesy of Trent Merrin to wrest back the lead, which was extended to 18-12 after the Cowboys conceded their sixth penalty.
Co-captain Matt Scott will be under scrutiny this week after being placed on report for an alleged crusher tackle for the second time this season.
Scott was penalised for his tackle on Trent Merrin and will know his fate later this week. He was found not guilty at the NRL judiciary of a similar offence after their team’s round 2 game against the Eels.
Man-on-the spot Gavin Cooper evened the ledger in the 64th minute with a trademark support run after brilliant lead-up work from hooker Jake Granville, who spilt the defence from dummy half.
The Cowboys host the Rabbitohs on Friday.
NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS 23 (Javid Bowen, Justin O’Neill, Gavin Cooper, Kyle Feldt tries; Johnathan Thurston 3 goals; Lachlan Coote field goal) def PENRITH PANTHERS 18 (Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 2, Trent Merrin tries; Jamie Soward 2 goals, pen. goal) at Pepper Stadium. Crowd: 13,725.