Penrith has moved to the top of the NRL ladder, but they did it the hard away against a gritty North Queensland at Panthers Stadium.
Manly’s upset win against Parramatta last night put a weight of expectation on the Panthers today – win and they would take first spot heading into the second half of the season.
But the Panthers were nervous from the outset, and the Cowboys produced one of their better defensive performances of an overall disappointing season.
Penrith looked on track when Jarome Luai scored in the opening five minutes of the game, but from there the Panthers looked anything but the top four side they seem destined to become.
They wouldn’t score again until the 48th minute when Brent Naden went over out wide – by that time the Cowboys led 10-4 and the game was on the line. Naden’s try levelled the scores and Penrith started to grab the ascendancy, but it was anything for comfortable ride for the Penrith fans back in the Panthers Stadium stands for the first time since Round 1.
A try to Stephen Crichton in the 58th put Penrith in front again, and a last minute four-pointer to Nathan Cleary confirmed the win.
“There was so many things in our favour going into today’s game…. I think we learned we can deal with that a bit better,” Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said.
Cleary is confronting some potential headaches next week against the Titans, with both Dean Whare and Dylan Edwards leaving the field with leg injuries during today’s game. Cleary said he was unsure if either would be available next week.
James Fisher-Harris was without question Penrith’s best – he dominated the forward battle and clocked up almost 250 metres, while making 58 tackles.
Meantime Nathan Cleary’s second half – including several key match-defining moments – saw him go close to grabbing Man of the Match honours.
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.