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Panthers return home against struggling Cowboys
The Penrith Panthers will be looking to move atop the premiership ladder when they host the struggling North Queensland Cowboys on Sunday afternoon.
Returning to Panthers Stadium for the first time since the opening round, the Penrith Panthers will be eager to continue their best start to a season since winning their maiden premiership in 1991.
Posting ten tries in a 56-24 rout of Cronulla last Saturday, coach Ivan Cleary will be stressing the importance of maintaining their defensive intensity after allowing the Sharks back into the contest shortly before halftime.
Recalling veteran centre Dean Whare in place of teenage sensation Charlie Staines (biosecurity breach), the resulting backline reshuffle sees Brent Naden revert to the wings.
Enjoying a strong return from injury with tries in each of his past three matches, fullback Dylan Edwards will celebrate a personal milestone by bringing up 50 NRL appearances for the club.
Blown off the park during the second half of last Thursday's 42-16 loss to the Roosters, the North Queensland Cowboys will be looking to maintain intensity throughout the entire 80 minutes.
Afforded a Sunday afternoon fixture for the first time in a year, coach Paul Green will be hoping his side can continue a surprisingly good record in the sun following four wins from their past six daytime matches.
Holding a 63 per cent success rate against the Panthers during Green's tenure with five wins from eight clashes, the Cowboys will be without Valentine Holmes (ankle), Scott Drinkwater (knee) and Peter Hola (wrist) with Justin O'Neill, Mitchell Dunn and debutant Daejarn Asi coming into the side.
Splitting his time in the backline, halves, hooker and off the bench since heading to North Queensland from Melbourne three years ago, utility Ben Hampton will bring up 100 appearances in the NRL on Sunday afternoon.
Last meeting: Round 23 2019 - Cowboys 24 Panthers 10
Who to watch: Enduring a turbulent 18 months marred by off-field controversy, Panthers utility Tyrone May has shown plenty of promise since returning to the NRL. Averaging just over a quarter of game time in two appearances this season, the 24-year-old Samoan representative produced a wonderful cut-out pass during last week's big win over the Sharks in a sign his days as an interchange player may be short lived. Set to make his first appearance at Panthers Stadium in close to two years, look for May to make his homecoming a memorable one.
With a host of established stars unavailable through injury, halfback Jake Clifford will need to step up if the Cowboys hope to pull off their first win at Penrith since 2016. Showing plenty of potential since coming into grade during the final weeks of Johnathan Thurston's career, the 22-year-old playmaker has yet to dominate the side's attack since the season resumption with four try-assists and eight forced restarts. Possessing the talent to nail a match-winning play as evidenced by his drop goal against the Roosters last season, Clifford will need to rise to the challenge if the Cowboys hope to pull off an upset.
The favourite: Coming off a half century last week, the Panthers are expected to have too many points for the battling Cowboys.
My tip: With the Penrith faithful set to be out in full force on Sunday afternoon, look for the home side to come away with a convincing win. Panthers by 20.
1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Dean Whare 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brent Naden 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Tyrone May 15. Spencer Leniu 16. Moses Leota 17. Billy Burns
1. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Connelly Lemuelu 4. Esan Marsters 5. Justin O'Neill 14. Daejarn Asi 7. Jake Clifford 8. Josh Mcguire 9. Reece Robson 10. Francis Molo 11. Shane Wright 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo 6. Mitchell Dunn 15. Tom Gilbert 16. Gavin Cooper 19. Reuben Cotter
Referees: Ben Cummins; Sideline Officials: Phil Henderson, Chris Sutton; Video Referees: Steve Clark, Ben Galea;