Panthers v Cowboys preview

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After an exhilarating victory over the Dragons on Monday night, the Panthers back up just five days later against the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville.

With the rep season in full swing, both sides will be missing personnel, but there’s no doubt North Queensland will suffer more than Penrith.

The best time to play the Cowboys is when they’re missing star five-eighth Johnathan Thurston through rep commitments.

What’s more, the imposing front row duo of Matthew Scott and James Tamou have also been picked for their respective states, while Brent Tate completes the missing quartet.

All of a sudden, then, the Panthers’ faltering season has the perfect opportunity for a shot in the arm.

But while the Cowboys may be weakened, they’re certainly not depleted. They appear much better placed to handle the loss of their stars than they have been in years past.

The ever-dangerous Matthew Bowen is still there and will inject himself heavily into the game, while halfback Ray Thompson – who has deputised for Thurston for several seasons now – is in the form of his career.

Their back row remains at full strength as well, with the likes of Tariq Sims, Dallas Johnson, Gavin Cooper and Jason Taumololo all on hand.

Still, the Panthers will more than fancy their chances. Tim Grant, Sam McKendry and Dayne Weston were dominant on Monday night – particularly Grant, who has been stellar since his return from injury – and they’ll be looking to run over the top of the Cowboys in the absence of Scott and Tamou.

Travis Burns and Blake Austin will most likely be the starting halves again with Luke Walsh still recovering from his knee injury.

Even if Walsh passes fit, I see no reason to split up Burns and Austin, who looked as dangerous a halves combination as any we’ve seen for the Panthers so far this season.

There’s also talk around that Nigel Plum isn’t too far off returning from injury.

Meanwhile, we’ll be looking for another big game from Lachlan Coote and Josh Mansour, who were probably the best on field against the Dragons.

Mansour’s stats speak for themselves, with an incredible 20 runs for 227 metres and seven tackle breaks in just his second first grade game.

Not only that, but he came up with the game’s crucial play, helping earn a penalty with a lighting fast play-the-ball that led to Coote’s winning field goal.

Obviously, Luke Lewis will be missed as he prepares to throw on a blue jersey next Wednesday night, but if the Panthers show the enthusiasm, line speed and overall commitment they did against the Dragons, there’s no reason they cannot win.

Will Monday’s victory galvanise the Panthers to their second straight success, or will they crash back down to earth? Find out this Saturday night at 7.30pm!

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