The Panthers head to Townsville on Saturday afternoon for a rare 3pm kickoff at 1300SMILES Stadium, but if they plan to be smirking by the time the 80 minutes is over they’ll have to get through plenty of challenges.
The first is simply raw emotion. The Cowboys’ favourite son, Johnathan Thurston, is scheduled to join an elite club when he plays his 300th NRL game on Saturday. Without question his team mates will lift for him in an effort to ensure the milestone game is memorable, and the Panthers will need to ensure they don’t get caught up in the euphoria.
Another challenge facing Penrith is the daunting nature of 1300SMILES Stadium. Misleading by name, plenty of beaming smiles have been wiped off the faces of opposition teams, especially in recent seasons. The Panthers actually have a pretty good record in Townsville but are yet to win outside of New South Wales this year – a record they’d like to correct before returning home for two straight games in Sydney.
While the Panthers have won four straight matches, they won’t have the luxury of launching a surprise comeback on the Cowboys this weekend. If North Queensland get in front, their ability to manage a game could easily squeeze Penrith out of the contest, so it’s important the visitors aim to start well and put on a complete 80 minute display.
Experience is very much on North Queensland’s side. Penrith’s spine boasts a fullback with only a handful of first grade games, a five-eighth who only started wearing the number 6 jersey less than a month ago, a halfback in his second season of top grade footy and a hooker who’s filling in for an injured veteran in Peter Wallace.
I’d go through the Cowboys spine but my fingers start to shake a little too much.
While North Queensland lost to Melbourne last weekend, their form line is a little off due to the Origin period, so you have to go back a fortnight to their 32-6 demolition of Parramatta in Darwin to appreciate just how good the side is going at the moment.
However it’s important to note that with Origin played in Sydney just a few days before this clash, there will be a few tired bodies out there and Paul Green would certainly have some worries over his game management.
What we need to see from Penrith is a determined effort from the forwards, who as a collective have been improving with every game this season.
This match presents a big opportunity for James Tamou to stand up and prove he’s worth the big pay packet that comes with him, especially against his former club, while Trent Merrin and Reagan Campbell-Gillard also need to have big games.
Penrith would know the importance of this clash, with Parramatta to take their position in the top eight if they can’t manage to get over the Cowboys. The bye has without doubt done the squad the world of good, and I think with a bit of luck on their side and a strong start, five wins in a row is very much on the cards.
Happy 300th JT, but the Panthers are coming to spoil the party.
Tip: Panthers by 2.
The Panthers and Cowboys play at 1300SMILES Stadium from 3pm on Saturday, June 24. The match is live on FOX League and Triple M.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.