Even Penrith coach Matt Elliott had to ask the media how his team had won after the Cowboys seemingly dominated the Panthers yet fell 28-20 in this crucial match up north.
“I am just not sure. I was hoping one of you guys (media) could tell me how we won?” Elliott queried post-match after his side managed to scrap their way to a win with the help of a Michael Jennings hat-trick, including a match-sealer on full-time.
Cowboys coach Neil Henry had an answer… and it wasn’t centred on the form of either side.
“The video referee is up there to get things right and I reckon twice tonight Sean Hampstead didn’t get it right,” an aggrieved Henry said. “I am going to ask serious questions of why have we got Sean Hampstead in that position if he can’t get that right. Get someone else in there.”
The Cowboys mentor was specifically pinpointing a first-half try to Penrith winger Michael Gordon and a second-half four-pointer to Jennings; if we are going to be fair and balanced both certainly had elements of doubt at the very least – Gordon tapped the ball ahead to himself after a kick, while Jennings dived over after what looked to be a Gavin Cooper knock-on.
Regardless, the Cowboys had chances to win and Johnathan Thurston even had a kick to tie things up inside the final 10 minutes but he failed and this resulted in some desperate football in the final seconds with the upshot being a third Jennings try after he pounced on a loose Cowboys pass.
The last-ditch try blew the score out a little considering the closeness of the contest and in the final wash-up the Panthers prowled over the Cowboys on the ladder to take residence in sixth spot, relegating the boys from up north to eighth and also leaving them a few nervous weeks ahead.
The Game Swung When… The opening 31 minutes of the match was all North Queensland – but despite having truckloads of possession and field position the side could only manage 10 points. Then the Penrith side clicked into gear to somewhat miraculously go into halftime at 10-all.
Johnathan Thurston (11th minute) and Willie Tonga (26th min) had scored tries to get out to a 10-0 lead but it was missed chances through poor execution or poor communication that would prove costly for the Cowboys in the end. In the early periods the side missed chances due to forward passes, poor kicks, dropped balls… even offloads after being called held.
Then in the 32nd minute Jennings pounced on a Luke Walsh grubber after Matt Bowen failed to clean up, which kick-started the Penrith campaign. The late swing in the half was complete when Michael Gordon scored his contentious try to tie the scores.
While the Cowboys did wrestle back the lead in the second half when Carl Webb (57th minute) scored first, two Penrith tries in four minutes between the 66th and 70th minutes turned the momentum back their way. The first of those, to Jennings, was once again contentious.
To the Cowboys’ credit a late try gave them a hope of tying up the scores but Thurston’s sideline conversion attempt sailed under the crossbar and they couldn’t find a way through in the final five minutes, instead gifting Jennings his hat-trick.
Who Was Hot… Panthers’ fullback Jarrod Sammut was a real jack in the box in this game and while he made some errors his attacking prowess made up for them.
Sammut ran for 193 metres, scored a try, made two line breaks and added a massive 15 tackle breaks. He was well supported in the attacking stakes by Michael Jennings, who crossed three times and has now helped the Panthers win the past seven games he has been involved in.
Once again a high error count was the only small blight on his game. Defensively Trent Waterhouse and Nathan Smith were solid with 44 and 42 tackles respectively, however Waterhouse could certainly work on his discipline after giving away three penalties.
For the Cowboys, prop Shane Tronc was a real workhorse running for 151 metres and adding 34 tackles.
Who Was Not… The game didn’t really have any poor players but it contained plenty of mistakes and it was a long way from a five-star encounter. It was, however, close and it kept your attention. A few individuals would like to maybe brush up on their tackling skills: Johnathan Thurston and Grant Rovelli missed eight each and Scot Bolton six for the Cowboys, while Luke Walsh missed seven for the Panthers.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… The 32nd-minute tackle by Ty Williams on Brad Tighe was a cracker and a highlight. But in terms of the tries it was the match-winner from Jarrod Sammut that was the beauty of the night.
Sammut danced, rolled, weaved, bounced and pushed his way over from close range in the 70th minute from a Frank Puletua offload to give his side the lead, one they wouldn’t relinquish.
It contained huge right- and left-foot steps and a forward roll and a few tackle breaks. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out on the highlights reel on NRL.com.
Injuries… No major problems to report.
Bad Boys… Ditto above… no major dramas.
Refs Watch… Video referee Sean Hampstead earned the ire of Cowboys fans, players and the coach for some interesting calls during the match, starting with the awarding of the Michael Gordon try from the 39th minute.
Gordon was chasing a Trent Waterhouse grubber and in the contest with Michael Bani to grab the ball it appeared he knocked it deliberately upwards and forwards before regathering to touch down. Hampstead instead gave the winger the benefit of the doubt, ruling the forward momentum of the ball was accidental. It was a tough call for the home side.
Hampstead once again annoyed the home fans when he flashed the green light in the 66th minute. Gavin Cooper was being tackled by Travis Burns and while looking to offload lost possession in what appeared a pretty clear knock-on. But on review Hampstead believed the ball either went backwards or was dislodged by an errant Burns boot… another unlucky call for the Cowboys.
The on-field referees Shayne Hayne and Matt Cecchin gave credible performances.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Jarrod Sammut (Panthers): Constantly seemed to be running in the clear and busting through tackles; when his team needed him he provided the match-winning try; 2 points – Shane Tronc (Cowboys): Was a machine for the home side, churning out the metres, minutes and tackles – but didn’t get much support; 1 point – Michael Jennings (Panthers): Three-try effort for the State of Origin centre ensured his side moved up the NRL ladder.
Panthers 28 (M Jennings 3, M Gordon, J Sammut tries; M Gordon 4 goals) def Cowboys 20 (J Thurston, W Tonga, C Webb, J Williams tries; J Thurston 2 goals) at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Crowd: 14,274.