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Panthers v Cowboys: Danger signs for North Queensland

Ho hum, another slow start by the Panthers before the juices finally start pumping and they pull out another come-from-behind victory.

As much as it must frustrate coach Anthony Griffin, he would have to love his team's ability to hang in there and finish strongly, but it's certainly an area the Panthers need to address before September when the stakes suddenly go through the roof.

Needless to say, the Cowboys have basically dug themselves such a hole that their next four games against Penrith, the Tigers, Souths and Melbourne are all must-win situations.

The Raiders sensed the home team was vulnerable and showed how much the game meant to their own season, leaving the Cowboys languishing near the bottom of the ladder with a 2-6 record.

We're still waiting for Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan to truly click, while the all-star forward pack is yet to hit its straps over the course of an 80-minute game. Why that is happening is anyone's guess.

The talent and experienceis there; maybe this is the week the Cowboys really get back to being the Cowboys.

Panthers v Cowboys - Round 9

Penrith Panthers v North Queensland Cowboys, 7.55pm Friday at Carrington Park, Bathurst

Key match-up: Whichever way you look at it, the standout head-to-head duel lies in the halves between Thurston and James Maloney. Thurston's stats (2nd in try assists, 3rd in line break assists) tell us that he's still playing well, but if he doesn't manage to outwit wily Penrith halfback James Maloney, the Cowboys are likely to slump to their seventh loss in nine games.

For the Panthers to win: The Panthers are facing a team under siege and have to be ready for a Cowboys ambush. It might not eventuate given the Cowboys' poor form, but they shouldn't forget the revenge factor after thumping last year's grand finalists in Townsville in round four.

For the Cowboys to win: It's hard to understand why this team is having so much trouble scoring (15.5 points per game). If they can bring out the best in their backs, the Cowboys can pose problems for the Panthers out wide.

Panthers stat attack: Hooker Peter Wallace is due to play his 100th game for Penrith, making him the 26th player all-time to play 100 games for two clubs. Wallace played 139 games for the Broncos.

Cowboys stat attack: The Cowboys have lost their past four away games and scored just 124 points in eight matches this season. On the plus side, winger Kyle Feldt has a tidy strike rate against the Panthers with five tries in their past five meetings.

And another thing: Halfback Nathan Cleary is due back from a knee injury soon. Not many pundits expected the Panthers to make much noise without Cleary, but they are equal second on the ladder and Griffin is likely to have the pleasant problem of fitting the 20-year-old star back into a winning team soon.

Panthers: 1 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 2 Christian Crichton, 3 Isaah Yeo, 4 Dean Whare, 5 Tyrone Phillips, 6 Tyrone Peachey, 7 James Maloney, 8 Trent Merrin, 9 Peter Wallace, 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11 Viliame Kikau, 12 Corey Harawira-Naera, 13 James Fisher-Harris

Interchange: 14 Sione Katoa, 15 Jack Hetherington, 16 Moses Leota, 17 James Tamou

The Panthers are 1-17. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak moves to fullback for Dylan Edwards (shoulder, season) with Tyrone Roberts to make his club debut on the wing. Isaah Yeo and Corey Harawira-Naera swap between centre and back row. Peter Wallace returns at hooker, pushing Sione Katoa to the bench. Wayde Egan and Nick Lui-Toso were dropped from the squad 24 hours out from kick-off, while Tom Eisenhuth and Kaide Ellis were cut an hour before kick-off.

Cowboys: 1 Lachlan Coote, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O'Neill, 4 Ben Hampton, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Michael Morgan, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matthew Scott (c), 9 Jake Granville, 10 Scott Bolton, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Coen Hess, 13 Jason Taumalolo

Interchange: 14 Te Maire Martin, 15 Shaun Fensom, 16 Corey Jensen, 17 Ethan Lowe

The Cowboys are also 1-17, with coach Paul Green naming an unchanged team from last week's loss to the Raiders. Jake Clifford and Sam Hoare were omitted on Thursday, while Francis Melo and Javid Bowen were dropped an hour before kick-off.

 19 Jake Clifford and 

Head-to-head: Played 37; Panthers 20 wins, Cowboys 17 wins
Matches at venue: No games at Carrington Park
2017 results: Cowboys won 14-12 at 1300Smiles Stadium in round 16; Panthers won 24-16 at Panthers Stadium
Points per game: Panthers 23; Cowboys 15.5
Points conceded per game: Panthers 15; Cowboys 22.8
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League

Steve Turner's prediction: The Panthers are an impressive outfit and their performances this year are being led by their forward pack. Penrith are undefeated at home and face a desperate Cowboys side who are yet to win on the road this year. The Cowboys have been disappointing this year and need to improve out of sight if they are to beat the second-placed Panthers. The task will be too big for the visitors, whose season is on the line this weekend. TIP: Panthers by 12

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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