Panthers v Cowboys: Five key points
The Cowboys had too much class in the end against a gallant Penrith side, running out 23-18 winners, with a former Panther returning to sink the boot in late.
Granville runs amok in the ruck
The Cowboys hooker ran for 70 metres and made 31 tackles in a 56-minute effort off the bench, but it was the speed he brought at the backend of the game that benefited his side the most.
"I brought some of our fresher forwards on there in the second half and they started to create a few things for him and he took advantage of that," Cowboys coach Paul Green said.
"I think he's probably been over-thinking things a little bit when he gets out of dummy-half. I said to him tonight if you get an opportunity just think run and pin them."
Green said he won't be compelled to start Granville off the bench every week, but admits it is advantageous to have such a dynamic player coming on against tired bodies.
"I don't know if we'll continue to do it for every game. It allows us to manage our interchange as well," Green said.
"I don't think we're losing anything. We might lose a little zip around the ruck, but Rory's a big body and he's a very good defender so at the start of games it's sometimes good to have that bigger body out there."
Trent Merrin delivers best Penrith performance
After a solid first month in new colours, Trent Merrin produced his best game for the Panthers in the five-point loss against North Queensland.
The Penrith lock forward was involved in everything, running for 107 metres, producing a season-high 39 tackles and crossing for his second try of the year.
He also came up three offloads which provided the impetus for Penrith's go-forward, especially in the first half.
"He was strong tonight...he's doing a great job for us," Panthers coach Anthony Griffin said.
"He's come here and he's been one of our better performers every week and that's what you want from your marquee purchases."
Merrin was forced from the field late in the game, but Griffin says it was simply precautionary.
"He's OK. It was in a tackle that was put on report so we took the interchange."
Scott unfazed by report
Cowboys co-captain Matt Scott could be facing a nervous couple of days after he was placed on report for the second time in 2016 for applying pressure to the head/neck area Trent Merrin.
The 63rd-minute incident follows his Round 2 citing for a similar tackle on Parramatta's Kenny Edwards, but Scott says he isn't concerned about any further sanctions.
"I'm not too worried about it. I didn't think there was anything in it. Trent said to me after the game that he milked it, so I'm hoping they take that into account," Scott said.
"We had one – I think Jason Taumalolo's first carry – where he was put in the same position, but he gets up and plays the ball and it doesn't get looked at.
"The opposition wants the two points or they want a penalty so they stay down and it gets looked at. There was no force applied to his head and he [Merrin] said after the game his neck was fine."
Plenty of positives for the Panthers
Saturday night's five-point loss continued Penrith's heart-stopping start to 2016, with all six of their games being decided in the final three minutes.
Despite the narrow loss, Anthony Griffin found several positives, particularly their ability to compete with arguably the two best teams in the competition in Brisbane and the Cowboys.
"We went within two minutes of beating the two grand final teams from last year in the past month," the Panthers coach said.
"They're not the premiers for no reason. Their key people came to the game when they were needed late in the game.
"In the short term the results aren't coming, but I thought it was a very strong performance."
Panthers forward Leilani Latu echoed Griffin's words, saying the playing group could take a lot out of Saturday night's tough loss against the 2015 premiers.
"It's definitely a confidence boost for the team, but at the end of the day, it's still a loss," he said.
"It's a bitter pill to swallow but we just have to go back to the drawing board, find the positives out of this game and take it for what it is."
Lachlan Coote still very much on the Cowboys' radar
Former Panther Lachlan Coote returned to Penrith to haunt his old club on Saturday night with a best-on-ground performance at both ends of the field.
His form has been so good in 2016 that he could add the Cowboys to his list of former suitors as salary cap pressure starts to take its toll on the 2015 premiers.
"I've said all along that we haven't said no to 'Cootey'," Green said after the game.
"His manager came to us with a figure that was probably a bit out of our ball park at the time. We've said to him make sure you give us last crack.
"He's not a player I want to lose or get rid of by any stretch, but the fact of the matter is we've got a salary cap and we've got to work to that. At some point you can't fit everyone in. Hopefully that's not going to be the case with him."
The Cowboys No.1 played a starring role on Saturday night, setting up his side's first two tries, before kicking the field goal to break the deadlock in the dying minutes.
But it was his defensive work that impressed Green the most, with Coote twice denying the much bigger Josh Mansour, including a try-saver in the final five minutes.
"He had a couple of really big plays for us tonight, defensively in particular. He's been consistently one our better players so far this year."