Panthers v Cowboys: Five key points
The Cowboys' 'Big Three', Penrith's problems at five-eighth, and Michael Morgan's rise. All the main points to come from North Queensland's Monday night win.
Report: Thurston stars in Cowboys win
North Queensland have a big 'Big Three'
For the second week in a row, the Cowboys' trio of Matt Scott, James Tamou and Jason Taumalolo topped an astonishing 500 metres combined. Over the first three weeks, they combined for a respectable 350 metres per week. But against the Storm last week, they upped their game to a remarkable 511 metres, and then backed it up with an even better 517 metres in Penrith. No wonder halfback Johnathan Thurston was singing their praises in the post-game presser.
"I thought our middle third was outstanding tonight. They backed that up off last week's performance, especially in that second half," he said.
Cleary unsure on sufficient evidence
Three times the Panthers were on the wrong end of decisions overturned by video referees Henry Perenara and Ashley Klein, including tries to Matt Moylan and Josh Mansour that were originally awarded by lead referee Matt Cecchin.
Cleary admitted he had issue with the calls, before questioning why it took them so many replays to come up with sufficient evidence.
"If there's an enormous amount of replays being done, then there's got to be some doubt. Usually, I would've thought, if you gain sufficient evidence from watching the video, it'll happen either the first couple of shots, or a particular shot. If you keep looking at the same shots, and then a different shot, then I would suggest that you're not quite sure. But that's just what I think," he said.
The Panthers obviously miss Jamie Soward
It's no coincidence that Penrith's string of three losses have come at the same time string-puller Jamie Soward has been out of action with a back issue. Coach Ivan Cleary has tried three different five-eighths in three weeks – Isaac John, Bryce Cartwright, Apisai Koroisau – all without success.
"We definitely miss him. He's obviously one of the leaders in our team and his kicking game's one aspect that we're missing and it's putting a lot of pressure on 'Wally'," Matt Moylan said from the sheds.
Morgan's sixth sense
Many questioned the impact of Lachlan Coote's selection at fullback by coach Paul Green, particularly after Michael Morgan's breakthrough season in the role last year. But Thurston said his new halves partner has been a defensive revelation on their left edge.
"He's obviously learning that position still but he's been outstanding for us. He's defending really well on that right edge. He talks extremely well. He came up with some big plays in defence for us. He's keeping that right edge pretty tight since he's been there, so [he's] enjoying that role," he said.
"And obviously 'Cootey' out the back, coming back to his old stomping ground... it was a good win for him too."
Penrith's 'GI' the fastest in the club
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary was quick to boast that debutant Waqa Blake was the club's sixth member out of their 2013 premiership-winning under-20s side to debut in first grade. As is customary of Panthers rookies, this one comes with some huge raps. Not only was he compared to South Sydney star Greg Inglis during the pre-season, but teammate Matt Moylan labelled him the fastest in the club.
"They're all real talented. I think they're all definitely going to have long careers. But Waqa's exceptional. He's the fastest at our club," Moylan said.