Penrith made a significant statement tonight with James Maloney leading them to an upset 33-14 win over the Cowboys in Townsville.
In their first game without star halfback Nathan Cleary, the Panthers dominated from the early stages, showing no signs of the slow starts that dogged their opening three games.
The razor sharp Panthers overcame a whistle-happy refereeing performance in the first half to lead 16-4 at the break and set up the impressive win.
They took a 2-0 lead early through a penalty goal before Viliame Kikau stormed over to make it 8-0 soon after.
Plenty of luck was involved in James Maloney’s second try of the season when he collected the scraps after the ball pinballed off several defenders, crossing to give Penrith a 14-0 lead.
Penrith’s momentum was halted when James Tamou was sin-binned after referee Gavin Badger lost patience with the side’s discipline. It put the Panthers under pressure and some solid structured play allowed Kyle Feldt to cross out wide to put the Cowboys on the board. A late penalty goal gave Penrith a 12 point advantage at half-time.
The penalty-a-thon continued early in the second half, with the Panthers extending their lead to 20-4 thanks to two penalty goals – allowing the visitors to take a commanding stranglehold on the game.
Penrith’s incredible second half defensive record was spoiled when Antontio Winterstein bagged a four-pointer with 26 minutes to go, but just a few minutes later Waqa Blake collected a high James Maloney bomb and managed to ground the ball, giving the Panthers an 18 point lead with just over a quarter of the game left.
The Cowboys gave themselves a glimmer of hope when Feldt scored his second with seven minutes to go, but the damage had already been done – and Maloney put the icing on the cake with a field goal in the final minutes to give Penrith a 27-14 lead.
Big Moses Leota bagged his first NRL try in the dying stages of the game to rub further salt into the wounds of the Cowboys.
Isaah Yeo left the field with concussion in the early stages of the second half after a clash with Jason Taumalolo. He didn’t return but was cleared of any serious injury.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor.