The NYC Panthers have gone down to the Cowboys 24-18 at 1300SMILES Stadium in a tightly-contested encounter.

The Panthers looked to have control of the contest for large periods of the game but a fortunate referee’s decision allowed the Cowboys to draw level and eventually clinch a winner late on.

A scrappy opening from both sides saw chances come few and far between. A Brian Too offload found Richie Munchow in space who rounded his marker to score in the corner but had planted his foot on the sideline as the visitors went closest to breaking the deadlock.

Defence dominated the opening half hour as both sides batted away the opposition on their own goal-line before Carl Winterstein entered the contest from the bench to open the scoring in the 32nd minute.

Fellow interchange Meni Luke stepped in to dummy-half and fed the prop with a short ball close to the line to crash over underneath the black dot. Dean Blore added the simple conversion to give the Panthers a 6-0 lead.

Having waited until the half hour mark for the first points, the Panthers would cross for their second try in three minutes thanks to a fortuitous try to Blore. The halfback’s towering kick was gathered in by Reed Izzard who stabbed a kick to the in-goal, which was dropped by Kalyn Ponga and sat invitingly for Blore to plant it down next to the uprights. He would convert his own try to stretch the visitor’s lead to 12 points.

There was still time on the clock for a third try, this time going the home side’s way through Jake Clifford. The halfback raced through to claim a high kick from his halves partner Mitch Dunn and fall over the line. He would bring his side back to within a converted try after converting his own effort to make it 12-6.

HALFTIME: North Queensland Cowboys 6 – 12 Penrith Panthers

Five minutes in to the second-half and the Cowboys drew themselves level thanks to Nathan Trail. A Clifford grubber crawled to the try line and bounced up for the centre to fall upon and score. Clifford’s conversion squeezed inside the right upright to tie up the contest at 12-all.

The Panthers regrouped to reclaim the lead ten minutes later thanks to the halves combination of Blore and Sam Martin-Savage. Blore directed play to the right edge and fed his partner an early pass to exploit space and cut through the line to score. The reliable boot of Blore added the extras to make it 18-12.

Controversy surrounded the next try as the Cowboys went the length of the field to lock things up once again just shy of the hour mark. Panthers winger Daniel Brown was taken out trying to chase down a Martin-Savage kick allowing Michael Carroll space to claim it and race away to score. Clifford’s conversion brought it back to 18-all.

The Cowboys edged ahead for the first time in the 62nd minute with Clifford at the heart of it again for the home side. A step and offload close to the line opened space for Duarne Dempsey to cross over. Clifford’s conversion raised the flags to make it 24-18.

The Panthers weren’t going to relinquish top spot on the ladder without a fight and threw everything at the Cowboys line looking for a late leveller but the home side would hold on for a toughly-fought 24-18 win.

FULLTIME: North Queensland Cowboys 24 – 18 Penrith Panthers

This article first appeared on Penrith Panthers Official. Go to http://www.penrithpanthers.com.au/ for all the official Panthers news.