Penrith Panthers v North Queensland Cowboys
It’s Easter Monday and most of the household probably has a chocolate headache after consuming three months worth of the stuff in one day.
It gets to afternoon and then hits you; tomorrow is the start of another working week. It’s not ideal, but what we can do is send you off with what shapes as an Easter classic between two teams with just as many unanswered questions as this time a month ago.
The Panthers had one of their worst 20-minute patches of the past year against Newcastle and are coming off a two-game losing streak against two of the competition’s toughest sides.
While North Queensland raised some grave doubts over their 2015 prospects during the first month of the season, they finished with a flurry against Melbourne and (based on a sample size of just 40 minutes) look to have their mojo back.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary welcomes back livewire hooker James Segeyaro, who sat out last game with a lip injury, along with prop Nigel Plum and five-eighth Isaac John. Apisai Koroisau is 18th man.
Paul Green did not have much of a turnaround in naming his team on Tuesday, and has kept his side unchanged with an extended bench featuring additions Kelepi Tanginoa and Justin O’Neill.
Watch Out Panthers: The Cowboys looked a lot like the Cowboys of seven months ago in the second half of Monday night’s game against Melbourne. The forwards – led by Jason Taumalolo – made it a completely one-sided affair up the middle and the combination of Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan and Lachlan Coote started to show what they were capable of. They wouldn’t have needed JT’s last-gasp heroics if not for a bit of dropped ball, but if this week features anything like that Cowboys second half effort the signs are ominous for Penrith. The Cowboys’ vigour amplified and they started playing a more daring brand of football as the half went on, scoring two of their most fluid tries of the year in the final 20 minutes.
Watch Out Cowboys: One could say two straight losses results in a lack of confidence, others could say it just makes a team more hungry. The way Penrith are wired, it is probably the latter. The addition of Segeyaro makes a world of difference as their attack seemed a little one-dimensional last week against Newcastle. With Jake ‘Thirsty Merc’ Granville starting at hooker in place of Rory Kostjasyn, expect the Panthers’ strike forwards to aim up at the small-statured hooker and fatigue him, setting the scene for some trademark Segeyaro scoots.
Key Match-Up: Matt Moylan vs Lachlan Coote. It’s not just a matter of Moylan having kicked the game-winning field goal in the teams' last meeting in Round 23, it’s a matter of personal pride between the apprentice and his old boss. Three years ago Moylan was in Coote’s shadow, trying to find his spot in the Penrith team. When Coote moved to five-eighth in 2013, Moylan got his first shot at fullback a couple of months into the season and has owned the jersey since. The two are both skilled ball-players and can find space where there seemingly is none.
The History: Played 32; Panthers 18, Cowboys 14. Since 2009, games between these two have been traditionally high-scoring with all but one reaching the collective 40-point mark. Results have been pretty even over that time, with the Cowboys winning five of the nine games. Last time they met, Jamie Soward outshone Johnathan Thurston and a solitary point proved the difference between these two sides.
What Are The Odds: Panthers ($1.49) v Cowboys ($2.50). Sportsbet punters obviously love a big price because the Cowboys have had twice the money placed on them in comparison to the Panthers. North Queensland at the line of +5.5 has been very popular.
Match Officials: Referees: Matt Cecchin & Grant Atkins; Touch Judges: Nick Beashel & Chris Sutton; Video Referees: Ashley Klein & Henry Perenara.
Televised: Fox Sports 1, Live, 7pm (AEDT).
The Way We See it: It is almost a given that both sides will be better than what they showed last week. There are few venues more hostile for a visiting team than Penrith's Pepper Stadium, and the Panthers always seem to respond with an aggressive showing. Combine that with the Cowboys still working their way into form, and we'll go with the Panthers by a converted try.