The North Queensland Cowboys shrugged off mid-week drama and a lengthy injury list to break a five-game losing streak in Townsville on Friday night, out-enthusing a lacklustre Penrith Panthers 24-10 at 1300SMILES Stadium.
The Panthers looked nothing like a team fighting to stay in touch with the top eight and their finals hopes are now on life support.
Two disallowed tries certainly hurt Penrith but in truth they never really looked likely as North Queensland celebrated only their fourth win at home this season.
Needing two tries to overcome a 12-4 half-time deficit, and keep their finals chances healthy, the Panthers had a Brian To’o try in the 45th minute and a Mitch Kenny crossing in the 50th over-ruled by the bunker for a knock-on and obstruction respectively.
Then Kyle Feldt ran 80 metres from a lightning Tom Opacic 20-metre tap and pass allowing the Cowboys to gallop to an 18-4 lead. It was Feldt’s 17th career double, after he had scored in the eighth minute.
Match: Cowboys v Panthers
Round 23 -
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville
The Cowboys were playing with bucketloads of energy and determination from the get-go, eventually scoring their first try eight minutes in, thanks to a flick pass from Opacic to Feldt deep in the right-hand corner.
Penrith were off the pace for most of the first half, last-play options and handling errors killing their momentum and giving the Cowboys a number of opportunities to march up the field.
Feldt scores from the scrum
After Jordan McLean racked up another penalty, this time being for not getting off the player quick enough, Brian To’o found space in the Cowboys defensive line and went over in the right-hand corner eight minutes from half-time.
But the good vibes didn't last for long. Taking advantage of being inside the Panthers’ red zone, makeshift halfback John Asiata put a well-weighted grubber kick through to find Jordan Kahu, who was going to ground but managed to pop a pass for Murray Taulagi to score his first NRL try.
It came just seconds from the half-time hooter in a classic "coach killer" for the Panthers’ Ivan Cleary.
Things don’t get much brighter for Penrith as they face the Roosters at SCG next week, followed by the Knights. Cleary’s men need to win both to have any chance of playing finals footy.
Kahu hands Taulagi his first NRL try
With 10 minutes to go the Cowboys extended their lead to 14 when a rampaging Jason Taumalolo capped another powerhouse performance with a try.
Taumalolo showed no signs of the foot complaint which kept him sidelined last week as he chalked up 152 metres from 17 runs.
The Cowboys now look ahead to Thursday night’s final home game at 1300SMILES Stadium when they host an in-form Bulldogs.