Todd Payten admits there's a buzz about his group as North Queensland prepare for their first trip to Sydney this season to face NRL leaders and reigning premiers Penrith.
Following a comprehensive win over competition juggernauts Melbourne, the biggest test of the Cowboys' season awaits in the form of the Panthers who've dropped just one game this season.
In the context of their 2022 campaign, Payten says the clash is just another two points on offer and a chance to test themselves for consecutive weeks.
But the coach has noticed a change around training this week.
"There is a genuine buzz amongst the group," he said on the eve of their clash.
"Really looking forward to it, going down to play a really good team at their home ground, some conditions that will be a little bit unfamiliar to us, some guys that haven't played at that stadium before.
"We've had a good week and we're looking forward to it."
For the first time in four rounds Payten has been forced to change his named side after co-captain Jason Taumalolo and winger Kyle Feldt suffered knee injuries in the 36-6 win over Melbourne.
Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and Jake Granville move into the interchange in their place, with Coen Hess moving to lock and the exciting Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow starting on the wing after spending four weeks coming off the bench.
Their inclusions exemplify the depth on offer in North Queensland this year, but Payten is aware his opponents boast the same.
"From one to 17 they're really strong, they understand their roles, they defend and scramble really well and they've got some really class players steering the ship and we're going to have to improve," he said.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said North Queensland's 2022 identity has been the crux of their form.
"They've been playing definitely a winning brand of footy, they look really committed as a team, do all the simple things well, and really play at a high intensity," Cleary said.
"Last year was a tough year for them, but from the outside looking in they've stuck to their plan and what they thought was going to work for them and now they're seeing results."
Australian Associated Press
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