Maloney steps in for Cleary to lead Panthers past Cowboys

With Nathan Cleary absent due to a knee injury, James Maloney took control and inspired Penrith Panthers to beat North Queensland.

James Maloney ensured the absence of Penrith Panthers' star half-back Nathan Cleary was not felt too sorely as he scored 21 points in a 33-14 victory over North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville.

Australia international Maloney lined up alongside Tyrone Peachey in the halves after Cleary was ruled out for 10 weeks with medial ligament damage in his left knee and proved a more than capable deputy with a domineering display.

The Panthers fell 14-0 down in their opening three NRL matches, twice coming back to win, but were up by that many inside 23 minutes.

Maloney – who set Viliame Kikau in for the opening try – touched down after his grubber-kick ricocheted off Michael Morgan and was spilled by Johnathan Thurston having been hacked on.

Kyle Feldt and Antonio Winterstein made inroads for the Cowboys, the former with his 50th NRL try, but Maloney kept them at bay by slotting through four goals, the last being a conversion after Waqa Blake leapt high to claim the former Cronulla Sharks man's cross-kick.

Feldt got his second with eight minutes remaining but a Maloney drop-goal and Moses Leota's first NRL try completed a resounding win for Penrith and handed North Queensland a third straight defeat.