Round 9: Panthers v Cowboys preview
The Panthers have been taking their matches to Bathurst since 2014 and have a strong record having won their past three matches there, after falling to defeat in their first clash in Central West NSW up against the Sharks. Penrith have since wowed the Bathurst fans with a 40-0 win over the Titans in 2015, before a one point victory over the Raiders in 2016 and then the Bathurst miracle last season where the Panthers scored twice in the final two minutes to take victory over the Raiders once more.
In 2018, it's a new story for Bathurst, with the Panthers coming into the game in 2nd place on the ladder, the highest position the Panthers have sat this far into a season since sitting on top after 13 rounds back in 2014. They head into the match full of confidence, shaking aside a 12-2 deficit to take their seventh victory of the season last week with their 22-14 win over the Canterbury Bulldogs at their Mulgoa Road home last Friday.
After a horror toll in the first two months of the season, Penrith's injury list grew even more last week with Dylan Edwards dislocating his shoulder, forcing Anthony Griffin into yet another backline shuffle that will see Dallin Watene Zelezniak move into the fullback position and new recruit Tyrone Phillips come into the wing spot, fresh off a hattrick in the Panthers' Intrust Super Premiership win last week.
The Cowboys meanwhile, head to Bathurst coming off a shock 18-8 loss to the Canberra Raiders in Townsville last weekend. Their form in 2018 has been poor to say the least, with just two victories so far - both wins coming at home against the Sharks in Round 1 and then the Titans in Round 7.
North Queensland's biggest issue in 2018 has been the lack of form from key players, and although both Thurston and Michael Morgan have shown glimpses of their brilliant best, there has been nothing that has really got the Cowboys going - something they will need to turn it around if they want to upset the 2nd-placed Panthers.
Penrith have won two of the three clashes between these sides in the last twelve months - earlier this year they comfortably accounted for the Townsville side, as well as a 24-16 win in Round 23 last year. The Cowboys were 14-12 victors in Round 16.
The head-to-head between these sides is fairly even with Penrith's nose in front with 20 wins from 37 matches. It's their first meeting at Bathurst's Carrington Park.
Who to watch: Reagan Campbell-Gillard - The man known as RCG or Reg for the Panthers has been the shining light of the Panthers forwards in 2018 and looks to be a certainty for Brad Fittler's NSW side for Origin 1 in a few weeks time. The Panthers big man has been leading the way for the Panthers in both attack and defence with some strong ball movement skills from the Panthers big man being an important part of their attack. Defensively Campbell-Gillard has played an important part of the sides online defence, pulling out some much-needed tackles as well as adding much needed aggression to the Panthers side.
Michael Morgan - Under immense pressure to regain 2017 form, Michael Morgan has had to play a second fiddle role at the Cowboys since the return of Johnathan Thurston. The step back in role for Morgan has meant that he has seen a lot less of the ball than he did in 2017 and with this lack of ball a seeming lack of confidence and form has meant Morgan has become under pressure to improve his game. A potential move to fullback should Lachlan Coote succumb to a rib injury could be the spark Morgan needs with glimpses of flair and 2017 form on show last weekend when Morgan moved into the fullback role.
My tip: Not a hard choice for me personally to pick the Panthers, The Bathurst match is an important game for the Panthers and they have won their past three clashes in the Central West. The form of key players is too strong for the Cowboys with James Maloney leading the Panthers superbly around the park it's easy to see why the Panthers can control the game. Panthers by 8.