Penrith Panthers have confirmed their third Minor Premiership in their 53-year history after a 32-12 success against North Queensland Cowboys tonight in Townsville.
A first half onslaught which saw the Panthers stride out to a 20-nil half-time lead. All the destruction came down the Panthers vaunted left-hand side with Stephen Crichton, Villiame Kikau and Josh Mansour found first half tries. Tonight's result made it 14 straight for the runaway leaders.
Much of the plaudits this season went to halfback Nathan Cleary, tonight Jarome Luai showed he isn't he isn't some second fiddle to the Blues representative. Luai has double digit try assists and picked up a four-pointer before the break. His combination with Crichton and Kikau tortured the Cowboys defense all night.
After a rare outing where he didn't cross the stripe, Crichton made up for that with a powerful first half. The star centre scored his 14th try of the season from a Kikau pass and could've had a second for being taken out, and Mansour grounding.
All this season, the Panthers have looked a happy side. It shows in their celebrations, their work around the ball and tonight, it showed in their resolute defense to deny the Cowboys until late in the contest. It will take a big effort to dethrone them on the trip to the Premiership.
When Kikau scored five minutes after half-time, it looked like another heavy defeat was on the cards. Kikau just swatted away at Cowboys defenders all night but this time, he showed his athleticism to catch and slam the ball down. The only trouble for Kikau will be his report for a high tackle from the first half.
Cowboys have only one more game to finish out what has been wretched 2020 season. They will avoid the wooden spoon albeit for some whacky results in the last two rounds, but there isn't much to take from this season. Young winer Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow has shown promise, but outside that, it is a big rebuild for incoming coach Todd Payten.
Tonight also was the final game of a storied North Queensland Cowboys career of Gavin Cooper. The Premiership winning forward had a literal hand in Tabuai-Fidow's four-pointer and put together another consistent game in front of his friends and family.