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Panthers face stern test against improving Cowboys
The Cowboys return to 1300Smiles Stadium this week for their first home day game in just over a decade and will be hoping to consolidate their spot in the Top Eight with a win. The Cowboys have enjoyed recent dominance over the Panthers, winning 6 of their past 7 against the Penrith club. However, coach Paul Green will be unsure who will suit up for Saturday afternoon's clash until the days after Wednesday night's State of Origin game at ANZ Stadium with Jonathan Thurston, Coen Hess, Gavin Cooper and Michael Morgan all featuring for the Queensland side. Unfortunately Thurston has been ruled out and will not be able to celebrate his 300th NRL game in front of his home fans. Therefore, former Panther Te Maire Martin could remarkably come into the side, despite only being granted a release to join the North Queensland club earlier this week. The more likely outcome, however, is that rookie Kyle Laybutt comes into the side for his second NRL game.
Luckily, the Panthers are unaffected by Origin duty and will be motivated to take the two points on Saturday afternoon. It has been well publicised that, despite coming into this one off a four-game winning streak, these victories have all come against teams currently siting outside the Top Eight. Therefore, Anthony Griffin's side are presented with the perfect opportunity to silence their doubters this weekend against a strong Cowboys outfit. Luckily, Griffin does not have to worry about the impact of State of Origin on his side, with Matt Moylan and Trent Merrin only chosen as back-ups for Laurie Daley's team. In saying this, hooker Peter Wallace and second-rower James Fisher-Harris are still notable absences from Griffin's team list.
Last meeting: Round 6 2016 - Panthers 18 Cowboys 23
Who to watch: With Thurston ruled out, further responsibility falls on the shoulders of Michael Morgan. In his last game without 'JT' Morgan was impressive, running for 141 metres, scoring a try and breaking eight tackles. A similar effort against the Panthers is crucial for his side's chances, especially seeing that he will likely be partnered by Laybutt, who is only lining up for his second NRL game.
Matt Moylan's move to five-eighth has not only been good for Moylan himself. Rather, it has also led to the emergence of rookie fullback Dylan Edwards. Previously confined to the wing, Edwards was enormous for the Panthers in their 24-20 win over the Raiders. Edwards provided the speed and power that any good side needs from their fullback, running for 231 metres, setting up a try and busting 15 tackles. While Moylan has attracted all the headlines in recent weeks, Edwards has certainly cemented himself as the club's future fullback.
The favourite: JT's absence has thrown the betting market into disarray and both sides cannot be separated.
My tip: If Thurston was playing you would think the Cowboys would lift seeing that it would have been his 300th game. Yet, without him, they face a much sterner task. A settled Penrith side, as long as they are not complacent, should be able to claim a critical win. Penrith by 8
1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Michael Morgan 18. Kyle Laybutt 8. John Asiata 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Ben Hampton 15. Coen Hess 16. Shaun Fensom 17. Corey Jensen
1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Dean Whare 4. Waqa Blake 5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 6. Matt Moylan 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Mitch Rein 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 11. Corey Harawira 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Trent Merrin 14. Tyrone Peachey 15. Leilani Latu 16. Tim Browne 17. Viliame Kikau
Referees: Grant Atkins, Chris Sutton; Sideline Officials: Jeff Younis, Jarrod Cole; Video Referees: Bernard Sutton, Ben Galea;