Panthers seal NRL minor premiership

Viliame Kikau scores a try for the Panthers in their 32-12 NRL win over the Cowboys on Friday night.
Viliame Kikau scores a try for the Panthers in their 32-12 NRL win over the Cowboys on Friday night.

Penrith have clinched their third NRL minor premiership in the club's history and extended their historic winning streak to 14, with a comfortable 32-12 triumph over North Queensland.

With just one round left before the finals, the Panthers sealed top spot after losing just one of their opening 19 games of the coronavirus-disrupted season.

Despite resting two players - captain James Tamou and injured star Apisai Koroisau - the in-form Panthers were never threatened by a cumbersome Cowboys side at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

The Wests Tigers-bound Tamou is expected to return to action and lift the JJ Giltinan shield following next week's final-round clash against Canterbury at ANZ Stadium.

Penrith did all the damage with a 20-0 first half assault on Friday to become the first team other than perennial heavyweights the Sydney Roosters and Melbourne to claim the Shield in eight years.

The only blemish is the possible suspension for strike second-rower Viliame Kikau, who was put on report for a high tackle on North Queensland fullback Valentine Holmes in the first half.

Kikau, who has already been suspended for a game this season for dangerous contact, has 50 carryover points and could be looking at another ban should he be hit with a grade-two charge.

Kikau was arguably the Panthers' best, carrying the ball for a team-high 180 metres, and scoring a try and setting up another in a monstrous performance.

Fullback Dylan Edwards also came off with a suspected knee complaint midway through the second half, but it isn't considered serious.

"I was pretty happy with the first half. Second half I just think we got distracted and played that way," Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said post-game.

"But obviously very proud of everyone at the club, everyone involved. Getting the minor premiership and sealing that is no mean feat.

"We had one foot on the plane after it got to 26-0. Yes of course we need to play for 80 minutes but I think we've done that enough this year to know how to do that."

It was one-way traffic from the kick-off, with winger Brian To'o on the end of an Edwards grubber in just the fourth minute and then Kikau rampaging through three defenders for Stephen Crichton to score soon after.

The sizzling start forced the Cowboys to resort to foul play to stop the bleeding, with winger Kyle Feldt denying Crichton a chance to gather a Jarome Luai grubber in the 14th minute.

However, teammate Josh Mansour backed up to touch down.

Not even forcing a line dropout could save North Queensland from Penrith's attacking prowess, with Crichton athletically tapping a short kick back into play for Luai to re-gather.

Minutes later, the duo combined again when Crichton tapped back a Luai bomb for the five-eighth to hand the Panthers a dominant 20-0 halftime lead.

Kikau continued the carnage soon after the break when he took a Cleary kick, before the Cowboys finally got on the scoreboard through Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow in the 61st minute.

Retiring veteran Gavin Cooper, playing his final home game in Townsville, was crucial in the build-up to the try, which also ended an impressive 180 minutes straight of the Panthers' tryline being held intact.

Panthers centre Brent Naden and Feldt traded tries late.

"Full credit to Penrith. There's a reason why they sit where they sit and we sit where we sit. They didn't overdo it tonight, Penrith," Cowboys interim coach Josh Hannay said.

Australian Associated Press