The visiting Newcastle Knights were suppose to be no match for the Penrith Panthers who were vying for a top four spot, but a solid all round performance by the Knights helped them to an upset victory at Panthers Stadium.
Newcastle came out of the blocks fast and as has been the case for the Panthers in the last month they were slow to react and nearly fell behind early after Shaun Kenny-Dowall scored in the corner, only to be denied by a forward pass from Sione Mata’utia.
But if that was the warning sign Penrith needed they took little notice of it as they continued their sluggish start and conceded the first points as Knights’ back rower Aiden Guerra crossed for a soft try to give the visitors a 4-0 lead.
Newcastle continued to play with plenty of energy and were rewarded with another try this time to centre Cory Denniss after he chased down a smart grubber kick from Kayln Ponga who was impressing in his first NRL start at five-eighth.
Penrith hadn’t had a single tackle inside Newcastle’s 20 metre zone but got a lucky break when Knights’ fullback Nick Meaney dropped the ball off a kick return, Tyrone May was there to pick up the loose ball and crossed the line for the easiest try he’ll score in first grade to cut Newcastle’s led to 8-6.
Meaney is a confident young footballer and he didn’t let that error ruin his day as he threw the final pass to Mata’utia who scored after a nice set play involving Mitch Barnett and Mitchell Pearce, Ken Sio converted the try to give Newcastle a deserving 14-6 lead at the break.
Penrith must have got a decent spray from second game coach Cameron Ciraldo because they started the second half with a lot more energy as they camped themselves down in the Knights’ half. But to their credit Newcastle showed great determination in defence constantly turning away the Panthers before they crossed the line to post the first points of the second half through Ken Sio who converted to make the score 20-6.
Penrith needed another miracle comeback but as frustrations grew and time ran out tempers started to flare and an all in brawl broke out with four players being sent to the sin bin. Penrith did cross for a consolation try through Wayde Egan but it was too little too late for the Mountain Men he blew a massive chance to entrench themselves in the top four.
Going into this game Newcastle had very little to play for and had shown signs in recent weeks that the side looked tired and fatigued after a gruelling season, coming up against a Penrith side who had a top four spot to play for it was expected the Panthers would cruise past the Knights. But Nathan Brown’s men had different ideas of how things would play out as they put in their best performance of the season especially in defence where they showed grit and determination not befitting of the league’s worst defensive side.
Problems in Panther Land
Ever since Penrith went top of the table by beating the Dragons in Round 12 they’ve struggled to replicate their early season form as they’ve slid down the ladder, if not for four comeback from behind victories who knows where they’d be sitting on the ladder now? General Manager Phil Gould noted this and sacked coach Anthony Griffin just four weeks out from the finals in one of the most controversial decisions ever made at the club. If Gould thought sacking Griffin was what the side needed to turn things around he might be second guessing his move as Penrith have failed to respond. Reports also surfaced that James Maloney is not happy about the demise of Griffin which is just another unwanted problem at the foot of mountains.
New position for Ponga
Fans and some experts have been calling for Nathan Brown to try Kayln Ponga in the halves alongside Mitchell Pearce all season, and they finally got their wish this week as Brown moved the young sensation into the five-eighth role. As has been the case in Ponga’s short career to date he made the conversion into the halves a winner as he laid on a try and looked very slick getting into first receiver. Ponga also impressed in defence but coach Brown stop short of confirming this would a permanent move for Ponga, suggesting he would leave the decision up to Ponga if he would like to play five-eighth or fullback.
Bringing back the biff
It’s not very often you see punches flying in the NRL these days but after a frustrating day at the office for Penrith it seemed tempers got the better of them as Viliame Kikau started a push and shove which led to multiple players from either side running in and ultimately plenty of punches thrown. Newcastle’s Danny Levi and Shaun Kenny-Dowall were sent to the bin for ten minutes and were followed off by Penrith pair Kikau and Tyrone May, Penrith fans will be left wondering why their players didn’t show that type of energy and aggressiveness during the game with so much at stake.
Newcastle Knights 20
Tries: Guerra, Denniss, Mata’utia, Sio
Goals: Sio 2/4
Drop Goals: N/A
Penrith Panthers 12
Tries: May, Egan
Goals: Cleary 2/2
Drop Goals: N/A
Panthers: 1. Tyrone Peachey 2. Josh Mansour 3. Waqa Blake 4. Dean Whare 5. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 6. Tyrone May 7. Nathan Cleary 15. Trent Merrin 9. Sione Katoa 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 11. Viliame Kikau 16. Corey Harawira-Naera 12. Isaah Yeo 8. James Tamou 14. Wayde Egan 17. Moses Leota 18. Kaide Ellis
Knights: 18. Nicholas Meaney 2. Ken Sio 3. Sione Mata’utia 4. Cory Denniss 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 1. Kalyn Ponga 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. Herman Ese’ese 9. Danny Levi 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12. Mitchell Barnett 13. Aidan Guerra 14. Jamie Buhrer 16. Pasami Saulo 19. Josh King 21. Luke Yates