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It doesn't get any easier for the struggling North Queensland Cowboys with an away clash against second-placed Penrith the third leg of a diabolical five-game stretch.

The Cowboys head into the game against Penrith, who are fresh from putting 56 points on Cronulla, having conceding 42 points apiece in back-to-back hammerings at the hands of the Eels and Roosters.

The Panthers have dropped just three points so far this season, their only loss against ladder-leading arch-rivals Parramatta, and really hit their straps in the romp against the Sharks after a string of hard-fought wins over the Storm, Rabbitohs and Wests Tigers.

Origin halfback Nathan Cleary pulls the strings for a Penrith line-up that has weapons all over the park, an arsenal that only got stronger with the four-try debut of rookie Charlie Staines.

The Rundown

Team news

Panthers: The Panthers will start 1-17 with Mitch Kenny and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak the two players left out an hour before kick-off. Centre Dean Whare returns with Brent Naden moving to the wing in place of Charlie Staines. Matt Burton and Lindsay Smith were the players omitted from the reserves bench on Saturday.

The Panthers return to their home ground for the first time since Round 1.

Cowboys: Daejarn Asi will start at five-eighth, with Mitchell Dunn dropping back to the bench. Corey Jensen and Murray Tualagi were the two players omitted 60 minutes before game time.

With Val Holmes set to be sidelined for two months with an ankle injury, Justin O'Neill returns on the wing. 

North Queensland on Friday were granted an exemption to replace props Jordan McLean (calf) and John Asista (knee) in the 21-man squad. Ben Hampton drops off the bench with Reuben Cotter joining the interchange and Emry Pere the other player omitted from the squad 24 hours before kick-off. The Cowboys have won five of their past seven games against the Panthers.

Team Lists

Backs

  • Fullback for Panthers is number 1 Dylan Edwards
    Fullback for Cowboys is number 1 Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow
  • Winger for Panthers is number 2 Josh Mansour
    Winger for Cowboys is number 2 Kyle Feldt
  • Centre for Panthers is number 3 Dean Whare
    Centre for Cowboys is number 3 Connelly Lemuelu
  • Centre for Panthers is number 4 Stephen Crichton
    Centre for Cowboys is number 4 Esan Marsters
  • Winger for Panthers is number 5 Brent Naden
    Winger for Cowboys is number 5 Justin O'Neill
  • Five-Eighth for Panthers is number 6 Jarome Luai
    Five-Eighth for Cowboys is number 14 Daejarn Asi
  • Halfback for Panthers is number 7 Nathan Cleary
    Halfback for Cowboys is number 7 Jake Clifford

Forwards

  • Prop for Panthers is number 8 James Tamou
    Prop for Cowboys is number 8 Josh McGuire
  • Hooker for Panthers is number 9 Apisai Koroisau
    Hooker for Cowboys is number 9 Reece Robson
  • Prop for Panthers is number 10 James Fisher-Harris
    Prop for Cowboys is number 10 Francis Molo
  • 2nd Row for Panthers is number 11 Viliame Kikau
    2nd Row for Cowboys is number 11 Shane Wright
  • 2nd Row for Panthers is number 12 Liam Martin
    2nd Row for Cowboys is number 12 Coen Hess
  • Lock for Panthers is number 13 Isaah Yeo
    Lock for Cowboys is number 13 Jason Taumalolo

Interchange

  • Interchange for Panthers is number 14 Tyrone May
    Interchange for Cowboys is number 6 Mitchell Dunn
  • Interchange for Panthers is number 15 Spencer Leniu
    Interchange for Cowboys is number 15 Tom Gilbert
  • Interchange for Panthers is number 16 Moses Leota
    Interchange for Cowboys is number 16 Gavin Cooper
  • Interchange for Panthers is number 17 Billy Burns
    Interchange for Cowboys is number 19 Reuben Cotter

Key match-up

Isaah Yeo v Jason Taumalolo:  Penrith's Yeo has taken his all-round game to another level in 2020 but this week he goes toe-to-toe with the NRL's premier No.13.

Yeo ranks fifth for tackles made and will certainly add a healthy chunk to his tally with Tonga international Taumalolo, who leads the competition for run metres and post-contact metres, running at him all night.

Stat Attack

North Queensland have the leakiest defence in the NRL, conceding more points than any other side, and appear unlikely to relinquish that "honour" against a Penrith attack on a roll after their breakout performance in round nine.