- Stewart Moses
LAST SAY: Moylan returns for Penrith's moment of truth
Penrith have been boosted by news that captain Matt Moylan has passed his fitness test and will take his place for tonight's pivotal match against Paul Green's injury depleted yet ever resilient North Queensland Cowboys side.
Moylan's return from a hamstring injury that has seen him miss three of Penrith's five consecutive wins is timely given the Panthers' tough run in to the finals, despite having reclaimed a spot in the top eight with last week's at times unconvincing 28-14 win over the Wests Tigers.
There are suggestions that Tyrone May, who has filled in admirably in the five-eighth role in Moylan' absence could yet retain his place in the seventeen albeit from the interchange bench possibly at the expense of Sione Katoa.
Speaking exclusively to Panthers media, Panthers Coach Anthony Griffin says that while May has done a great job filling in for the Penrith skipper, Moylan's inclusion is a massive boost for a team that boasts only four players that has tasted victory against a side who rank alongside the Melbourne Storm as their most difficult opponents.
He had a fitness test (and) got through Captain's Run really well (having) had a good half hour out there," Griffin said
"We'll have to see how he pulls up but at this stage we're pretty confident he'll play.
"Tyrone May has done a terrific job there while he's been out which is great for our club as well for a young player to be able to come in and handle that.
"But for Matt to be able to come back it's a big boost for our team.
"He's a quality player and our captain."
With one home game remaining against the team they replaced in the top eight, St George-Illawarra sandwiched between tough road trips against top eight contenders Canberra and Manly, the Panthers having regained a spot in the top eight proper for the first time since Round Four, can ill-afford to drop points at home tonight.
But Penrith's fourth opponent in as many weeks are easily their toughest, with the Cowboys despite having played the majority of the season without Jonathan Thurston and Matt Scott, well placed to make the finals themselves provided they can avoid three consecutive losses in as many weeks.
A win over a Cowboys side, hit hard by further injuries to former Panthers Gavin Cooper and Te Maire Martin along with winger Antonio Winterstein, will see the Panthers leapfrog North Queensland on for/against and finish the round just two points out of the top four, possibly as high as sixth position.
One-time Panther Te Maire Martin succumbs to injury and again misses an opportunity to play his former team mates. Credit: 77 Media.
With the Panthers having had their share of injuries in recent weeks, Griffin is under no illusion just how difficult a task his young side faces if they are to overcome a depleted Cowboys side that still contains the likes of Michael Morgan, Lachlan Coote, Jason Taumalolo, Coen Hess and Jake Granville and record just their second win over top eight opposition in 2017.
"A lot of teams have got injuries. We've been through that over the last month with Matt, Trent Merrin and Leilani Latu," Griffin replied.
"But while there are a lot of teams missing key people this year, the Cowboys have been very resilient as a club.
"They've showed a lot of mental toughness to put themselves in the position they are now after losing both Thurston and Scott.
"They're a really good top four side and we're expecting a real top of the table team coming at us hard on our home ground."
While Penrith have won five games in a row and nine of their last eleven, its been anything but convincing for the majority of those performances.
One of those two losses was in Townsville where Penrith's stoic defensive efforts masked an inability to close out a tight match that was lost 14-12 after Kyle Feldt scored that "Hail Mary" try in the closing minutes.
Griffin concedes his side, who rank second to Cronulla as having the NRL's worst completion rate, will need to show greater respect when in possession if they are to avoid a repeat result in tonight's return clash.
"(Last time against the Cowboys) we had a poor completion rate and I think we did something like 430-odd tackles, which is a record and we were nearly good enough defensively," Griffin said.
"But we put ourselves in that position so it's really important tonight that we build pressure and we're patient.
"We need our defence to be just as good as it was if not better than that day and I'm sure it will be a really close match."
STAT ATTACK: PANTHERS V COWBOYS
PLAYED 30: PENRITH 18 COWBOYS 17
AT PEPPER: PENRITH 8 COWBOYS 9
BIGGEST WIN: PENRITH 56-6 (2004)
BIGGEST LOSS: PENRITH 4-36 (2013)
COWBOYS HAVE WON 3 OF THE LAST 4 AT PEPPER STADIUM.
PENRITH LOOKING FOR 7 HOME WINS IN A ROW FOR FIRST TIME SINCE 2013-14 (8 WINS)
PENRITH LOOKING FOR 6 WINS IN A ROW FOR FIRST TIME SINCE 2016 (6 WINS)
ANTHONY GRIFFIN 1 PAUL GREEN 4 (GREEN WINNING LAST 4)
100 NRL GAMES - TIM BROWNE
PETER WALLACE, MATT MOYLAN, JOSH MANSOUR AND DALLIN WATENE-ZELEZNIAK HAVE WON JUST 1 GAME EACH VS NORTH QUEENSLAND (AS PANTHERS).
MICHAEL MORGAN NEEDS 1 TRY FOR 50 NRL TRIES AND LOOKING TO AVOID 50 NRL LOSSES - PENRITH ONLY TEAM MORGAN HAS YET TO SCORE AGAINST.
LACHLAN COOTE 3 FROM 3 VERSUS FORMER CLUB
JUSTIN O'NEILL 7 TRIES IN 7 GAMES VERSUS PENRITH
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