The Panthers have surged into top spot on the ladder after Nathan Cleary inspired a 22-10 win over the depleted Cowboys at Panthers Stadium on Sunday.
Cleary added error-inducing defensive work to his usual combination of individual skill and game management, plus a clever individual try in the final minute, to lift the Panthers past Parramatta at the pointy end of the table.
Prior to second-half tries scored by Brent Naden, Stephen Crichton and Cleary, teenaged Cowboys rookies Daejarn Asi and Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow had threatened to breathe life back into North Queensland’s season.
Asi gave the visitors the lead two minutes into the second half with a try that suggests the 19-year-old debutant has a bright future.
Tabuai-Fidow had provided the highlight of the first half with a brilliant weaving run three minutes before the break.
After offloads from Esan Marsters and Reuben Cotter, Tabuai-Fidow turned on a super play of pace, balance and evasiveness to score a long-range try.
That effort cancelled out Jarome Luai’s fourth-minute opener and sent the two sides into the break locked up at 4-4.