Full Time
7:35pm Sat April 27, 2024
Round 8 - Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville / Wulgurukaba - Crowd: 20960

Match Overview

The Penrith Panthers have held off a fast-finishing North Queensland Cowboys side 26-20 at Townsville in a Saturday night thriller to re-enter the NRL's top four.

Panthers winger Brian To'o opened his 100th NRL appearance in style as he scored the first try of the game, going over on the left edge after a lovely cut-out pass from Jarome Luai.

It came as a result of a charging run from Paul Alamoti, who was a late addition to Penrith's team on Saturday night, replacing Sunia Turuva in what was described to Fox League's Dan Ginnane as a "coach's decision".

It was curious timing given it had been confirmed on Friday that Turuva, who had been a reliable contributor on the right wing, would be joining the Wests Tigers in the 2025 season.

But the Panthers look to have found a clear replacement for him in Alamoti, who had 196 metres, five tackle busts and a try in the first half alone.

The three-time defending premiers looked switched on early but a few unforced errors gifted North Queensland field position and eventually the hosts capitalised as Tom Dearden sent Semi Valemei flying over to score in the 14th minute.

The errors kept coming from Penrith, who held a 6-4 lead at that point and held onto it on the back of relentless goal-line defence that continually repelled the Cowboys.

While Penrith's defensive system stood tall, North Queensland should have scored in the 24th minute only for a stunning one-on-one tackle from Dylan Edwards to deny Jeremiah Nanai.

That defensive stand paved the way for a late blitz from the Panthers in the first half, with Edwards rewarded for his efforts as he scored in the 33rd minute before a late intercept try capped off a brilliant 40 minutes for Alamoti.

Penrith quickly extended its lead early in the second as Liam Martin pounced on a Semi Valemei error off a Nathan Cleary bomb, with the halfback once again perfect off the tee to make it 24-4.

The Cowboys needed to score next to be any hope of a miraculous comeback and did just that, albeit in contentious circumstances, as Valentine Holmes went over in the 48th minute.

It came after Edwards was ruled to have dropped the ball close to Penrith's line, although replays seemed to show it was dislodged by Scott Drinkwater.

But with no challenge left after unsuccessfully contesting a call earlier in the game the Panthers had to cop the call, with the difference this time being that their defence folded in an unusually soft manner.

It proved a critical turning point as North Queensland, seemingly on the ropes after the Martin try, then further closed the gap as Kulikefu Finefeuiaki scored to make it 24-14 after 55 minutes.

Jeremiah Nanai then crashed over, reducing Penrith's deficit to 24-20 heading into the final quarter of the game.

It was a nervy finish for the premiers as the Cowboys continued to roll up the field and threaten with their second-phase play while the Panthers were uncharacteristically poor in closing out the game late.

They face the Rabbitohs next week while North Queensland host the Dolphins and will likely be without centre Tom Chester, who failed to finish the game after picking up a hamstring injury.

3. Dylan Edwards

An enormous effort at the back from Edwards, who started every set off with strong carries, running for 167 metres and four tackle busts to go with two linebreak assists. Edwards was also the anchor of Penrith's relentless on-goal defence, coming up with a big try-saver on Jeremiah Nanai.

2. Brian To'o

17 tackle busts. Says it all. Was hard to put down and a big effort considering none of Penrith's forwards topped 100 metres. Paul Alamoti also unlucky to not get a vote here.

1. Jason Taumalolo

Turned the game when he came on with impactful carries and offloads that tested Penrith's middle defence. Finished the game with 138 metres and a pair of offloads.