NQ Cowboys looking disappointed during the Round 4 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Penrith Panthers at 1300 SMILES Stadium in Townsville, Thursday, March 28, 2018. (AAP Image/Michael Chambers) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
NQ Cowboys looking disappointed during the Round 4 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Penrith Panthers at 1300 SMILES Stadium in Townsville, Thursday, March 28, 2018. (AAP Image/Michael Chambers) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Panthers continue Cowboys pain

LAST year, they were the NRL's Cinderella story. Now, the Cowboys are more like Nightmare on Elm Street.

North Queensland's grand-final hangover has turned into a sickening migraine after the Cowboys sensationally crashed to a third consecutive defeat with a woeful 33-14 loss to a pumped-up Penrith at 1300 Smiles Stadium.

Coach Paul Green's spray following last week's loss to the Storm fell on deaf ears as the Cowboys were again belted in midfield by a Penrith side that was simply sharper, tougher and hungrier.

Inside Mail

On a disastrous night in Townsville before 11,907 fans, it was pain on all fronts for the Cowboys, who lost centre Javid Bowen (concussion) and Test prop Jordan McLean (foot) to rub salt into deep wounds.

Inspired by magnificent James Maloney, who comprehensively outplayed Johnathan Thurston, the Panthers were ruthlessly clinical, leading 14-0 inside 22 minutes and charging to a 26-8 lead after 57 minutes.

Maloney put the boot into the Cowboys with a 77th-minute field goal before Moses Leota crossed a minute from full-time to seal Penrith's first win in Townsville in nine years.

To compound their plight, Cowboys back-rower Coen Hess was placed on report in the 57th minute for a late shot on the red-hot Maloney.

North Queensland could not match Penrith’s physicality.
North Queensland could not match Penrith’s physicality.

While the Panthers were superb, the Cowboys were insipid. This is not the team which surged imperiously to last year's grand final. Their confidence is shot, their execution is awful and their big men are being monstered in midfield.

Underlining the rout, Thurston barely made an impact, while the Cowboys were so devoid of answers their $5 million man, Michael Morgan, was shifted from five-eighth to fullback in the second half.

The Cowboys could finish the weekend in the bottom four and the task won't get easier, with Green's troops facing a tough road trip to face the Warriors next Saturday night.

The Cowboys were expected to come charging out of the blocks after coach Paul Green lashed their attitude in last week's 30-14 loss to the Storm in the grand-final replay.

But here's the scary thing. Green's blast was white noise. Their start was as flat as week-old lemonade.

North Queensland have now fallen to 1-3.
North Queensland have now fallen to 1-3.

The Cowboys looked anything but the grand-finalists of 2017 as they committed a series of unforced errors, allowing the Panthers to find their rhythm, buoyed by a monster pack that was winning the midfield.

It was a sign of the Cowboys' ineptitude that the Panthers were hammered 10-3 in the penalty count in the opening stanza and still managed to dictate terms.

With the contest barely past the quarter-hour mark, the Cowboys were all at sea as the Panthers bolted to a 14-0 lead inside 22 minutes.

A fifth-minute Maloney penalty opened the scoring before two tries in six minutes rocked the Cowboys.

Fijian sensation Viliame Kikau ran a superb line off Maloney to cross in the 16th minute and when Maloney touched down after Cowboys champion Thurston fumbled a kick through, North Queensland were in real trouble.

James Maloney was the best player on the field for Penrith.
James Maloney was the best player on the field for Penrith.

The Cowboys need to address their attitude to the fundamentals. McLean simply dropped the ball cold in the ruck in the 20th minute. A short time later, Morgan was caught on the last tackle attacking the Penrith line.

On current form, Morgan can't be chosen at the Queensland scrumbase for Origin I. The $5 million man looks out of sorts and is clearly still finding his groove after missing the opening fortnight with an abdominal strain. He needs to lift quickly to put pressure on Maroons rivals Cameron Munster, Ben Hunt and Daly Cherry-Evans.

Cowboys fullback Ben Hampton, who made nine tackle busts, tried to lift his side after the break, but the Panthers were always in control.

This was a Cowboys horror show. Green needs to find some answers quickly.

PENRITH 33 (W Blake V Kikau M Leota J Maloney tries J Maloney 8 goals J Maloney field goal) bt NORTH QUEENSLAND 14 (K Feldt 2 A Winterstein tries J Thurston goal) at 1300 SMILES Stadium. Referee: Gavin Badger, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski. Crowd: 11,907



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