NORTH QUEENSLAND 36 (R Thompson 3 K Feldt B Tate A Winterstein tries J Thurston 6 goals) bt PENRITH 4 (D Simmons try) at Centrebet Stadium. Referees: Gerard Sutton, Adam Gee. Crowd: 6611.
The Panthers slump to a fourth consecutive loss, a defeat that means they're now only a mathematical chance of making the finals, are the Cowboys. For the second week in a row, Thurston was simply outstanding for North Queensland. Please join us again tomorrow night when James Polson brings you all the action from the Bulldogs-Titans clash. Goodnight.
73 min: An error from Thurston, failing to find touch from a penalty! Well, I'll be . . .
69 min: Tries are coming in a flood for Thompson, and the Cowboys. Before tonight he had none this season, now he's scored three in 12 minutes. Thurston again had a hand in this one, as did Feldt and Tate. Thurston adds the extras. COWBOYS 36-4.
62 min: Thurston splits the Panthers' defence with ease and puts Thompson in for his second. Thurston's kick raises the flags and the Cowboys are headed for only their third back-to-back wins of the season. COWBOYS 30-4.
57 min: TRY! The video refs over-rule a no-try call against hooker Ray Thompson and the Cowboys go out to a 20-point lead after Thurston's conversion. COWBOYS 24-4.
52 min: This match is literally slipping out of the Panthers' grasp, Simmons knocking on at dummy half attacking the Cowboys' line.
48 min: The Cowboys make the Panthers pay for their error, Feldt winning the race to a superb Thurston kick and scoring his first NRL try. Thurston makes it from three from three, from the sideline. COWBOYS 18-4.
47 min: But a knock-on by Panthers captain Kevin Kingston hands the ball back to the Cowboys.
46 min: Panthers awarded the first penalty of the second half. Another chance to apply some pressure to the Cowboys' line perhaps.
41 min: Outstanding first set by the Panthers ends with the Cowboys having to work the ball off their own line. That might have even brought a smile to Ivan Cleary's trademark poker face!
Here's Fairfax reporter Michael Chammas's review of the first 40 minutes ...
"It hasn't been the prettiest game of footy but the Cowboys deserve their half-time advantage. North Queensland lost their way through the middle period of that half but their ability to start and finish strong has ensured they go into the break with the lead. Penrith haven't been afraid to chance their arm with the ball and they are going to have to continue to do so in the second half if they are to produce a come-from-behind victory. The Panthers have plenty to play for after Canberra and the Warriors' respective losses, because a win tonight gets them within two points of the eight with games against the Warriors and Broncos over the next fortnight."
COWBOYS 12 (Winterstein, Tate tries Thurston 2 goals) lead PANTHERS 4 (Simmons try).
38 min: TRY! Just when the Panthers looked as though they were gaining the ascendancy, veteran Cowboys centre runs onto a wobbly but well-directed Thurston pass and beats three defenders to score. Thurston converts. COWBOYS 12-4.
34 min: But much to Feldt's relief, the Panthers fail to add to their score.
33 min: Feldt knocks on a Coote kick 20m out from his line. In cricket parlance, that was an absolute sitter. Panthers on a roll.
30 min: The Panthers strike back, Simmons scooping up a loose pass from Coote and stepping his way over for his 17th try of the season. Simmons and Knights winger James McManus are the NRL's equal leading tryscorers this season. Luke Walsh fails to convert. COWBOYS 6-4.
25 min: The Cowboys are probably lucky to still be six points in front. They started well but their attack has looked a bit aimless during the past 10 minutes and the Panthers are finding holes in their defence.
22 min: NO TRY ruling against the Panthers' Jeremy Latimore after a kick by James Segeyaro, who started the match at hooker tonight against his former club. Easy decision for the video refs.
19 min: Panthers again fail to crack the Cowboys, despite having two sets on their line.
15 min: Wonderful effort from Panthers winger David Simmons to get out of his in-goal despite being surrounded by defenders. One of the most consistent wingers in the game.
13 min: Much better defence from the Panthers, bundling rookie winger Kyle Feldt over the sideline just short of the try line.
6 min: TRY! Antonio Winterstein crosses for the Cowboys after superb hands from Thurston, picking up where he left off last week against Souths. Thurston converts from the sideline. COWBOYS 6-0.
3 min: Early chance for the Cowboys but the visitors knock on a pinpoint bomb from Johnathan Thurston.
Good evening all and welcome to our coverage of tonight's do-or-die match at Centrebet Stadium. Massive boost for the Panthers with Sam McKendry, Lachlan Coote and Sika Manu all late additions to their 17-man squad at the expense of Nathan Smith, Cameron Ciraldo and Geoff Daniela. Manu's inclusion is a huge shock, after he reportedly broke his hand during the loss against the Roosters last week. The Cowboys have dropped bench forward Jason Taumalolo for disciplinary reasons. Ricky Thorby is his replacement.
Centrebet Stadium, Penrith, Sunday 6.30pm (AEST)
Last meeting: Cowboys 30 bt Panthers 0 at Townsville, Round 5 2013
Head-to-head: Panthers 17, Cowboys 13
Referees: Gerard Sutton, Adam Gee
TV: Live FoxSports 1
TAB: Panthers $2.70, Cowboys $1.48
FootyTab: Panthers +2.5
Phil Mitchell writes: The mathematicians might regard both teams as still being in the finals hunt but realistically they’ve got Buckley’s chance. This is especially the case for the Cowboys, despite ending a three-match losing streak with a stunning win against Souths last Sunday. As impressive as that performance was, the fact is the Cowboys are five points adrift of the top eight – surely too much ground to make up in only five rounds. Penrith are two points clear of the Cowboys but with an injury-decimated forward pack and matches against the Warriors, Canterbury and Manly (all away) looming, their hopes were all but extinguished by the Roosters last Friday night. The Panthers have also lost seven of their past eight Sunday matches and their last three clashes against the Cowboys.
Phil's tip: Cowboys by 12.
AAP writes: North Queensland coach Neil Henry appeared to be a dead man walking for some time but actual confirmation of his demise seemed to breathe new life into the Cowboys. Playing without any inhibitions, North Queensland put away then ladder leaders South Sydney in a display that would no doubt have been bittersweet for Henry to witness. In the dreaded ‘‘mathematical chance’’ finals mix with Penrith, North Queensland would be backing themselves to at least record consecutive wins for only the second time this year. An injury-depleted Penrith have lost three straight, conceding a total of 112 points.
Key: As per usual, Johnathan Thurston. The North Queensland pivot boiled the bunnies last round and will again be out to unleash the Cowboys’ feared running game with his precision passing in Penrith.
PANTHERS: Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour, Geoff Daniela, Dean Whare, David Simmons, Isaac John, Luke Walsh, Jeremy Latimore, Kevin Kingston (capt), Tim Grant, Clint Newton, Lewis Brown, Ryan Simpkins. Interchange: James Segeyaro, Cameron Ciraldo, Mose Masoe, Nathan Smith.
COWBOYS: Matthew Bowen, Kyle Feldt, Brent Tate, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein, Johnathan Thurston (capt), Robert Lui, Matthew Scott (capt), Ray Thompson, James Tamou, Gavin Cooper, Glenn Hall, Joel Riethmuller. Interchange: Rory Kostjasyn, Tariq Sims, Jason Taumalolo, Ashton Sims, Ricky Thorby (one to be omitted).