The Penrith Panthers have secured the 2020 minor premiership following a comprehensive 32-12 victory over the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville.
On the night that the Cowboys farewelled Gavin Cooper after over 300 NRL games, Penrith left their opposition in their dust after a fast and furious start to the match.
The Panthers’ first try of the night was set up by Dylan Edwards, who placed a deft grubber kick into the in-goal for Brian To’o to score.
— NRL (@NRL) September 18, 2020
They would then double their lead through Viliame Kikau, who broke the Cowboys’ defence with a trademark charge before passing off to Stephen Crichton.
Three minutes later, the Panthers were in again as Josh Mansour grounded a rolling kick from Jarome Luai just centimetres from the dead ball line.
The try provided Luai with his seventeenth try assist of the season, bettered only by Luke Keary at the five-eighth position.
The Panthers almost had their fourth through Viliame Kikau but he was miraculously stopped by a strong one-on-one defensive effort from Daejarn Asi.
Unfortunately for Cowboys fans, Penrith’s left edge attack simply refused to be silenced as Jarome Luai crossed for one of his own with six minutes left in the first half.
The try extended the lead to twenty, where it remained until half-time.
The Penrith ambush looked set to continue in the second half with Kikau catching a cross-field kick from Nathan Cleary to score after just five minutes of play.
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow finally got the Cowboys on the board with their first try of the match fifteen minutes later.
Ayny faint comeback hopes were squashed when Nathan Cleary streaked away down the right-wing before sending Brent Naden away to score.
— NRL (@NRL) September 18, 2020
With the result sealed, a late try to Kyle Feldt was little more than a consolation effort.
Penrith has now moved five points clear of Melbourne and will lift the J.J. Giltinan shield for the third time in franchise history.
On both previous occasions that they won the minor premiership, they went on to win the premiership.
Panthers’ coach Ivan Cleary expressed his satisfaction at wrapping up the minor premiership but admitted there is still plenty of improvement left in his side as they build towards the finals.
“I’m obviously very proud of everyone at the club and everyone who has been involved in getting the minor premiership because that’s no mean feat”, he stated.
For the Cowboys, Josh Hannay was disappointed that his side wasn’t able to send Gavin Cooper out a winner in his last home game, but credited their opposition for their relentlessness in attack.
“There’s a reason why they sit where they sit, and why we sit where we sit. They didn’t overdo it out there tonight, they were just happy to build pressure and control the football”, he said.
Penrith will advance to face the Bulldogs in their final match of the regular season, while the Cowboys will play Brisbane in a bottom-of-the-table clash on Thursday night at Suncorp Stadium.
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3 Points – Viliame Kikau – The Penrith right-edge absolutely dominated the Cowboys tonight and Kikau was involved in everything with one try and a try assist.
His run that set up Crichton’s try was everything we’ve come to expect from the damaging edge runner throughout his career.
2 Points – Jarome Luai – If Kikau was the star, then Luai was the director as he dictated all the play down the right edge.
He chimed in with one try assist and a try of his own.
1 Point – Nathan Cleary – He’s used to playing the lead, but Nathan Cleary won today’s award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
While most of the attack was sent down the right, Cleary still managed two try assists and a line-break in an indication that he’s still in red-hot form with the finals just two weeks away.