Panthers crush cowboys to underline dominance at the top of the NRL ladder

The Panthers made a definite statement in defense of the NRL Premiership by slapping the North Queensland Cowboys in an impressive performance at the Bluebet Stadium.

With their own winning statements against Melbourne Storm and the Paramatman Eels, the Cowboys established themselves as a premiership contender in 2022, but were firmly pushed back by a Penrith display that left them scoreless and largely unlikely.

The 22-0 scoreline was probably generous for North Queensland, who had to fight for their lives to contain a strong Penrith and defend much more to be effective in attack.

The first half in particular was remarkably one-sided for the top two teams meeting on the stairs. The Panthers had two-thirds of the ball and they played almost exclusively in the offensive half of the field, pinning North Queensland and forcing them to tackle about 100.

The Cowboys did well to keep the half-time score down to 16-0 and, in fact, held that gap until the last ten minutes, but there was always the feeling that the Panthers would eventually get cash.

It was the first trip to Sydney, North Queensland since last year’s 14th round, and they left with a strong reminder of the criteria they would face when they return to New South Wales at the end of the season.

They started off happily – making a line break from Valentine Holmes kick off – but it didn’t take long for them to become acutely acquainted with the problems that come with facing Penrith on their own turf.

The secret of the Panthers’ attack was Isa Yo as a ball lock, but for the first attempt of the night, he didn’t need to pass at all. Api Koroisau ran from the dummy half and found his 13, who were able to use his size to cross the side of the post.

The Panthers might have had a second: they made an unpleasant amount of pressure around 20 consecutive tackles in the Cowboys line, showed an admirable amount of patience to force them to repeat after the repeat, and finally found Taylan Mack in the corner.

Unfortunately for Penrith, his dive for the line saw his arm simultaneously touch the turf with the ball and the bunker wiped it off.

As big a bomb as it was from the winger, it was probably a piece of luck that the dog’s defense – holding the three-player line – deserved it.

In the long run it wasn’t too much of an issue. Hitting that left edge again, Isaac Tago smashed the paint and checked an inferential pass inside that Dylan Edwards picked up from his bootless to score in the corner.

Penrith’s backline was now motoring. James Fisher-Harris Scott sat Drinkwater behind him and from the ball quick play, they worked most efficiently to transfer the ball to Brian Toe in the corner.

The Cowboys were shaken in a way that has rarely been seen from them this season. Twice they reached the 40-meter line, and twice they made an unforced mistake. Occupancy, now weighing 70/30 against them, began to speak to the brain as well as the body.

The Cowboys started the second half in almost perfect fashion. Holmes thought he was finished, but Dylan Edwards saved the effort by removing a stray hand ball.

The Panthers dominated the ball, but played with their food in a bit of attack and could not go through a steady defense.

The 16-0 scoreline seemed uncertain due to North Queensland’s ability to create quick points, but there was always doubt that the Panthers could add more gear if needed.

Moreover, the sheer weight of coping was affecting the Cowboys’ ability to attack – their finish rate was below 50% for most of the second half.

It was a small miracle that the Panthers took the last ten to extend their half-time lead, but as North Queensland grew weary, they finally broke down in May behind a floating Louis Pass.

The Cowboys had time to create the first serious pressure of the game late, but the Panthers were too proud to let them go.

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