Cowboys muscle up to deny Panthers
North Queensland have earned a quarter-final berth against the Storm and ended the luckless Panthers' weekend with a hard-fought 15-11 win.
Cowboys playmaker Michael Morgan says his side are in good shape ahead of the quarter-finals, finishing pool play with two wins and a loss.
"We are enjoying it and now we are one step closer to the ultimate goal of winning the tournament," Morgan said.
"It's good that we have some momentum heading into the next round and that we were able to defend well in that last game against Penrith."
When the Panthers regathered a lost ball and sent it through countless pairs of hands, with a few high-risk offloads and a couple of great touches by James Segeyaro, Ben Garcia opened the scoring in the corner.
But Gavin Cooper scored his fourth try of the weekend shortly after when he finished off a series of passes down the left flank. A lost ball from Suaia Matagi put the Cowboys in range for Ethan Lowe to spear through a gap and run around to the bonus zone.
A casual penalty kick from Bryce Cartwright failed to find touch and heaped the pressure on his side and young back-rower Coen Hess pushed his way over out wide for a 15-6 half-time lead.
Cartwright did it all himself to get his side back in it, single-handedly beating several defenders to score a bonus zone try, though he missed the conversion from in front to leave his side four adrift. Though Penrith hammered the North Queensland line for several straight sets to finish the game the Cowboys' line held firm to send the Panthers packing.
Despite failing to progress to the next round, young Panthers half Zach Dockar-Clay said he enjoyed his first taste of playing with Penrith after signing from Parramatta.
"It's been a really good experience. For me I was playing for the Panthers for the first time and it has been really good," Dockar-Clay told NRL.com.
"I have picked up plenty over the past couple of days and am now looking forward to taking that into the rest of the pre-season and then on to playing some consistent football."
North Queensland Cowboys 15 (Cooper, Lowe, Hess tries) def. Penrith Panthers 11 (Garcia, Cartwright tries).