A try-saving effort followed up by two tries to Nathan Cleary steered Penrith to a vital win over an injury-hit North Queensland Cowboys at Pepper Stadium.
Momentum key ahead of finals
The final month of football was always going to create a headache for teams still surging into finals calculations.
Penrith are now sitting in sixth place after securing their sixth straight victory – an incredible change of form after a sluggish start to the season.
Whether their performances have been convincing is another story, but they have given themselves every chance heading into September football.
The result is a worry however for North Queensland who are now level with both the Panthers and Sea Eagles (who still have a game to play) in eighth spot.
Cowboys coach Paul Green admitted it was a game the visitors just had to win and now face the prospect of missing the finals with a tough three weeks remaining.
"They didn't roll over but just kept competing," Green said of Penrith.
"We're not done yet and have got plenty of character, but we're going to have to win one [more game] at the very least."
Cleary try-saver seals the deal
If the Panthers go deep into the finals series, they'll have to look back on the try-saving tackle from Nathan Cleary on Coen Hess that got them there.
The game was in the balance and not for the first time this season, it was 19-year-old Cleary who stepped up to the plate.
Penrith lifted from the inspirational defensive effort and two tries from the No.7 after the tackle secured victory.
"That tackle was unbelievable and the play of the night for us," Panthers coach Anthony Griffin said.
"It just kept our nose in front and then he backed up Tyrone May to put the game away."
Cowboys' captaincy curse continues
North Queensland were on the verge of causing an upset in the opening half before key injuries to Justin O'Neill (elbow) and Michael Morgan (concussion) derailed the side's fluency in attack with Paul Green admitting his men had nothing left in the tank.
The loss of halfback Morgan affected the team's attack the most, with Penrith flying home with a wet sail on the back of opposite No.7 Nathan Cleary.
"I thought we had our chances to nail the game but ran out of gas through the middle," Green said.
"We had blokes playing out of position and it was a courageous effort."
Morgan's early shower was also the fourth time the club's captain has left the field with injury this season after Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott and more recently Gavin Cooper were casualties after wearing the "c" next to their name.
Fifth tackle options still an issue
If you're a Panthers fan you may have lost count of how many times the ball ended up in the wrong hands on the last tackle with Reagan Campbell-Gillard's kick seven minutes before the siren a clear example of the side's lacklustre structure at times.
Penrith haven't been made to pay for some of their dubious fifth tackle options in recent weeks but after Anthony Griffin spoke out after their win against the Wests Tigers last start, it is something they'll need to fix.
"We were a little bit messy there again," Griffin said on Saturday night.
"At times we were settled but we just got frantic. We have got a lot to improve on but were better than last week."
Campbell-Gillard staking international claims
Has there been a more improved prop in the competition than Reagan Campbell-Gillard?
Another 231-metre effort on Saturday night has only backed up Australian coach Mal Meninga's comments earlier in the week that "RCG" was in line for a potential World Cup berth at the end of the season.
Griffin's decision to shift Campbell-Gillard to the bench in the past month has added the spark and allowed the Windsor junior the ability to play out the remainder 60 minutes per game.