Penrith’s long run of dominance has continued as they snapped North Queensland’s NRL run of six straight wins with a 22-0 loss over the Cowboys at Bluebet Stadium.
In another clinical night for the Panthers, the hosts dominated the ball, territory and scoring to secure a four-point lead at the top of the table heading into the representative period.
Dally M leader Isaah Yeo was Penrith’s best again, while Jarome Luai impressed and Nathan Cleary ran the game with ease in his last match before State of Origin.
The only concern for NSW manager Brad Fittler could be a possible late five-eighth shoulder charge from Luai on Scott Drinkwater.
And while his large Origin contingent means Penrith will take a beating over the next two months, the question remains: can anyone challenge the Panthers in 2022?
Only Parramatta has beaten Penrith in the first 12 rounds, but the Eels have struggled to be consistent.
By comparison, Penrith has easily dispatched second place Melbourne, seventh place Sydney Roosters and third place North Queensland in the three weeks since that loss.
His first try on Friday night came through Yeo when Apisai Koroisau rocketed out of the middle of dummy and put up the lock to score.
The next one came when Izack Tago broke the left edge after some good work from Viliame Kikau and Jarome Luai, before a speculator helped Dylan Edwards across.
Another try came when the Cowboys were stripped of numbers and Brian To’o snapped a snap before halftime.
Five-eighth Luai put Taylan May on Penrith’s only try in the second half.
Leaving aside Luai, the other concern for Penrith will be if Kikau is charged for a late shot and a dangerous pitch.
North Queensland was not as bad as the scoreboard suggested.
They completed 60 percent, but barely had a chance to go on the attack as the Panthers controlled almost all of the ball down the Cowboys’ line.
And to North Queensland’s credit, they were able to hold on continuously.
At one point in the first half, the Cowboys went 28 straight plays before Izack Tago came across only to put his arm on the line as he planted the ball.
Penrith typically averages a try every 8.5 plays in an opponent’s 20-yard zone, according to Fox Sports Stats.
But on Friday night that number shot up to one in 17 snaps in a stat that defined North Queensland’s resilience.
But still, the Cowboys would have been disappointed that they blew their chances.
Valentine Holmes bombed his best chance, dropping the ball just short of the line early in the second half when they could have launched a counterattack.
Griffin Neame also fumbled under the posts midway through the second half.