Panthers coach expects Cowboys to come out firing
PANTHERS coach Anthony Griffin is bracing for a strong response from the Cowboys in Townsville on Thursday night as they look to shake off questions about their effort and attitude.
The Cowboys are stinging following back-to-back losses to the Broncos and Storm which led coach Paul Green to declare his side was "looking for an easy ride" after being rated as one of the premiership favourites.
Griffin felt the Cowboys were closer to their best than the recent criticism would suggest and he expected they would only continue to improve back on their home turf.
"They've got a fairly experienced group so when they get a dig in the ribs like that I've got no doubt that they'll respond," Griffin said on Wednesday.
"They haven't been that far away. The goalpost beat them in Brisbane and last week was 18-14 until late in the game against Melbourne in Melbourne.
"They've got their key players back together now in (Johnathan) Thurston and (Michael) Morgan and some of their guys that were away with the World Cup like (Jason) Taumalolo and (Jordan) McLean are starting to get some miles in their legs.
"Being back at home after playing two high quality games I'd expect their going to be a lot better prepared than maybe what they would have been a month ago."
A fired-up Cowboys could spell danger for Penrith, who have trailed 14-0 in every game so far this season and will be without star halfback Nathan Cleary (knee) in Townsville.
The Panthers recovered to win their first two matches while they only went down to the Bulldogs by two points last weekend and Griffin insisted their slow starts weren't a significant issue.
"We've always played out a full 80 minutes and we'll get it right. Sometimes you can sit there and read too much into those things," he said.
"Last week it was an intercept and a try that shouldn't have been a try. The referees have come out now and said it wasn't a try.
"We've just got to make sure we're strong defensively early and the rest will look after itself."
The Cowboys have stuck with an unchanged team from last weekend's loss to the Storm, but fullback Lachlan Coote has been included in the 21-man squad as he plots his return from a hamstring strain.
The most likely scenario is that Coote will play for Mackay in the Queensland Cup this weekend, with Ben Hampton to retain the No.1 jersey, but Griffin said the Panthers won't be caught out by a late switch at the back.
"We're preparing that at some stage he might be there and we've done our homework on him," Griffin said.
"He's a quality player and when him and Thurston and Morgan are together that's when they're at their best. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he came in."