PENRITH have compounded North Queensland’s season of woe, consigning the Cowboys to a fifth-straight loss with a dramatic 19-18 golden point victory at Dairy Farmers Stadium.
Flamboyant winger Jarrod Sammut cruelled the Cowboys’ comeback, slotting a field goal, which ricocheted in off the upright with just over two minutes remaining in extra time.
The Cowboys sent the match into golden point when a late, controversial try to centre Ash Graham levelled the scores and Johnathan Thurston’s tough conversion attempt sailed wide.
Only moments earlier, Panthers centre Michael Jennings looked as though he’d secured the two points with a 90-metre intercept try.
The Cowboys were forced to finish the match with only 11 players on the field because Luke O’Donnell was sent off in the 56th minute, before Steve Southern suffered an arm injury and the Cowboys had used all of their allotted interchanges.
In a brutal contest both sides had to be separated several times, and there was one particularly nasty incident in the first half where punches were thrown between Carl Webb and Maurice Blair, causing an all-in brawl.
The most controversial moment of the match, though, was O’Donnell’s send off by rookie referee Alan Shortall for an apparent raised elbow on Penrith half-back Luke Lewis.
Lewis was forced from the field for treatment but returned to finish the match.
It was a tough initiation for Shortall, who failed to stamp any authority on the teams and the match threatened to boil over on several occasions.
On leaving the field, O’Donnell launched a verbal tirade at sideline official Russell Turner.
O’Donnell’s absence seemed to muster the Cowboys’ spirit and they finished the game the stronger, spending the majority of the second half attacking the Penrith line despite being a man down.
It was all Penrith in the opening exchanges, the visitors dominating ball and field position to race to a 10-point lead through tries to Luke Rooney and Brad Tighe.
The Cowboys fought back with Thurston and Travis Burns putting their stamp on the match.Penrith coach Matt Elliott believed O’Donnell’s send off was a difficult call for debutant Alan Shortall.
â€œThe send off was a tough call but if you lead with your elbow into people’s faces you are eventually going to get sent off,” Elliot said.
â€œI know Luke, he is a good guy, but he left a stamp on Mick Monaghan in 2003 in similar fashion and he got Priddis earlier in the game.
â€œHe is such a good player he doesn’t need that in his game, he really needs to look at his technique because someone is going to get hurt.”
On his Cowboys coaching debut, Ian Millward questioned whether Shortall made the right decision.
â€œI saw Luke’s palm come up first but I didn’t think it was intentional,” he said.
â€œObviously it would have earned a penalty but a send off was a tough call, a really tough call.
â€œThey turned up here with a really good attitude, tonight we were down to 11 men in extra time and the blokes showed a lot of courage.”
O’Donnell was placed off limits to the media after the game; while it is expected Steve Southern will spend a long period on the sidelines after suffering a serious shoulder injury.