Penrith Panthers cement NRL finals berth with 24-16 win over the North Queensland Cowboys
Penrith have cemented their position inside the NRL top eight with a Nathan Cleary-led 24-16 win over an injury-hit North Queensland at Pepper Stadium.
Cleary came up with one of the try-savers of the year and scored two decisive second-half tries to lead his side to victory over a gutsy Cowboys on Saturday night.
The Cowboys, already missing Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Gavin Cooper, Antonio Winterstein and Te Maire Martin, were struck two massive blows when they lost Michael Morgan and Justin O'Neill to injury.
It's feared O'Neill's season is over after he dislocated his elbow while halfback Morgan didn't return in the second half after suffering a concussion.
The Cowboys were brave, playing the entire second stanza with two men on the bench while fullback Lachlan Coote seemed to be playing with an ankle injury.
After taking a 10-6 lead into halftime, the Cowboys extended their advantage when front-rower-turned-halfback John Asiata threw a short ball for Jason Taumalolo to get over.
Cleary saved what would have been a decisive try when he held up Cowboys big man Coen Hess.
The Cowboys simply ran out of gas with Cleary scoring twice in the last 30 minutes to give his side a valuable two points which jumps them into sixth.
First he latched onto a clever Tyrone Peachey kick and after James Tamou crashed over against his old club, the teenage halfback delivered the coup de grace in the 70th minute for his side's sixth win in a row.
It was the Cowboys' third loss on the trot and put them in danger of missing the finals.