Cowboys v Panthers preview

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North Queensland Cowboys v Penrith Panthers Friday 6:00pm at Queensland Country Bank Stadium

Cooper looks to spoil former side's winning run in Townsville farewell game

Their season may be over but the Cowboys aren't without reasons to lift for Friday night's game against the ladder leaders. Obviously there is the potential to be the team to snap Penrith's 13-game winning streak and build confidence heading into next year. Aside from the opposition though, it also is 321-game veteran Gavin Cooper's final game at Townsville. 245 of those appearances have come in Cowboys colours.

While Cooper's departure is representative of the larger changing of the guard at North Queensland, it also signals a greater injection of youth to come. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, at just 19 years old, has already established himself as one of the club's most exciting prospects.

But the absences of Josh McGuire, John Asiata and Justin O'Neill also give a host of other emerging talents the chance to impress. Murray Taulagi has just eight games to his name but gets another shot in the centres while Corey Jensen, a mainstay on the interchange in the past few years, has been handed a starting spot. Meanwhile, Ben Condon makes his debut on a bench that is brimming with inexperienced talent looking to make an impression. He joins Daejarn Asi, Emry Pere and Tom Gilbert on the pine for a combined total of 15 games in the NRL. Jason Taumalolo has been named on the bench in what shapes as a huge inclusion.

But if there is any side in the NRL that are testament to the benefits of an injection of developed talent, it is their opponents this week. 16 of Penrith's 17 players named for Friday's clash made their NRL debuts at the foot of the mountains.

The addition of experienced campaigners from other clubs has been just as helpful though. In fact, all three Panthers who have been rested this week - Apisai Koroisau, James Tamou and Zane Tetevano - are some of the rare ones who did not start their careers at Penrith. Their leadership has been critical to the competition leader's current winning streak though. Mitch Kenny, Jack Hetherington and Kurt Capewell are the replacements.

The strength of Penrith's depth is a credit to their development pathways and smart recruitment choices, so much so that rested such a talented trio does little to lessen Penrith's chances of a comfortable win this week. 

Last meeting: Round 10 2020 - Panthers 22 Cowboys 10

Who to watch: There are few weaknesses in this Penrith line-up but if there is one thing the Cowboys can exploit it is the lack of speed on the wing. Josh Mansour and Brian To'o both have plenty of size and strength, which makes them tough to tackle and therefore ramps up their metreage. But they are not fast by any stretch, certainly not like the ‘Forbes Ferrari' Charlie Staines. The Cowboys have their own speedster in Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow. With little to play for, look for Scott Drinkwater to take the chance at putting in early kicks for the pacey winger. 

If Jack Hetherington's time at the Warriors is anything to go by, you can count on him providing Penrith with the exact energy boost they need right now. 13 wins in a row is mighty impressive but difficult to maintain. You need to remain focussed and an injection of fresh blood can do the trick too. Hetherington is just that - as long as he channels it in the appropriate manner. He will be desperate to prove himself having fallen down the pecking order. Look for an early statement shot in defence while his speed could also prove a handful if brought on late in the piece.

The favourite: Penrith are roaring favourites to make it 14-straight wins.

My tip: The travel factor could definitely see the Panthers make a slow start like they did against Brisbane. But the Cowboys are coming off a five-day turnaround that balanced it out. The class of the halves should get the away side home. Panthers by 14.

1. Valentine Holmes 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Murray Taulagi 14. Daejarn Asi 5. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 6. Scott Drinkwater 7. Jake Clifford 8. Corey Jensen 9. Reuben Cotter 10. Jordan McLean 16. Tom Gilbert 12. Mitchell Dunn 13. Francis Molo 11. Gavin Cooper 15. Emry Pere 17. Ben Condon 18. Jason Taumalolo

1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Brent Naden 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To'o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Moses Leota 9. Mitch Kenny 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Tyrone May 15. Spencer Leniu 16. Kurt Capewell 17. Jack Hetherington

Referees: Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials: Jon Stone, Drew Oultram; Video Referees: Steve Clark;

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