Panthers prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard.

Penrith coach Ivan Cleary was left to rue a sluggish start as a fourth loss in their past five games left the Panthers' semi-final hopes hanging by a thread.

The Cowboys dug deep after an emotional week to down the Panthers 24-10 on a night where the team running second-last were ore committed and composed than Cleary's ninth-placed side.

“We didn't start the game well enough,” Cleary said.

“Fundamental errors put us behind the eight-ball for two weeks in a row. We gave the Cowboys a leg-up and bit of a sniff and generally speaking it was a little bit disjointed.”

The Cowboys came out with plenty of purpose and a desire to perform for veteran prop Matt Scott, who suffered a mild stroke last weekend.

That early energy delivered tries to Kyle Feldt and Murray Taulagi and the Cowboys led 12-4 at the break but Cleary felt his team could finish over the top of the home side.

“I thought we could get back in the game pretty much most of the night. We just couldn't quite nail it,” Cleary said.

“I thought the Cowboys defended pretty well and we struggled to get momentum throughout the game.

"At various stages we did but then we couldn't really take advantage of those opportunities. Close calls, disallowed tries, and that kind of stuff.”

Despite the disappointment Cleary was able to take some positives out of the loss as his team prepares for a season-defining clash with the Roosters at the SCG next Saturday.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys playing in our team. I thought some of those guys did really well," he said.

“I thought Spencer [Leniu] was good and young [Stephen] Crichton on the wing was good as well. We’ve got six rookies in this team so it’s all part of the experience - good and bad."