The Penrith Panthers have narrowly defeated the Newcastle Knights 16-14 in a tough battle at McDonald Jones Stadium.
Newcastle were eager to keep their perfect start to the season up and move to 2-0, while Penrith were looking to erase the embarrassment of last week’s error-filled performance to register their first win for 2019; it was to be the latter result, as Penrith edged out a narrow victory.
The Knights would have loved a fast start – and Connor Watson looked to have crossed for the first try of the day – only be denied by the Bunker for obstruction after Lachlan Fitzgibbon was ruled to be an illegal decoy runner.
Newcastle were first to put points on the board after a Kalyn Ponga penalty goal in the 10th minute gave them a 2-0 lead, but Penrith were the first to strike blood after James Fisher-Harris barged over.
Penrith lead – but not for long – as a beautiful cut-out pass from Ponga found an unmarked Edrick Lee, where the winger was basically untouched as he finished a beautiful passage of play. Penrith took the advantage into the break as prop Frank Winterstein crossed five minutes before half time, converted by Nathan Cleary.
Newcastle started the second half slow, as Penrith crossed again as Isaah Yeo crashed over adjacent to the posts to extend their lead to eight.
Lee looked to have his second try but desperate defence by Panthers five-eighth James Maloney saw Lee’s efforts denied.
With the home crowd behind their team, the Knights needed something quick and Mitch Barnett delivered with a try; Ponga’s conversion made it a two-point game with five minutes remaining, however Penrith held on for a 16-14 win.
James Maloney’s defence
After being criticised for his defensive performances last year, Maloney muscled up and produced some defence no one saw coming.
Maloney put a massive shot on Knights fullback Watson, forcing a turn-over and the moments later he stripped Lee of the ball to deny him a certain four-pointer.
The 32-year-old had off-season surgery on his neck to elongate his career and it looks to have provided the goods for the veteran half, as he turned back the clock to put on a defensive clinic which helped his side to hold on for a hard-fought victory.
Scrappy performance from Knights
It was not Newcastle’s finest performance as they slumped to their first loss of the season; they lacked energy and polish as they wasted some glorious chances.
They were not awful in their completion rate, as they completed 29/38 sets at 76%, however they made 12 errors and lacked fluency in their attack.
They had a number of chances to win the match, however could not capitalise on their opportunities, Ponga went close in the 49th minute but he was denied by the Bunker.
The men from the Hunter will need to improve as they face a tough assignment in Canberra next week.
Penrith’s discipline needs work
Last week against Parramatta the Panthers’ discipline was poor as they conceded 10 penalties and completed at a very poor 62%.
Fast forward a week, their discipline was better but it still needs some serious work; they completed 69% of their sets and gave away nine penalties.
It is an issue they need to address if they are to be serious contenders in 2019; they got the job done this week, but they must complete their sets and minimise the penalties they give away if they are to win consistently.
Their job will not be easy next week as they face a methodical Melbourne Storm side in Bathurst.
Newcastle far from a finished product
The Knights are 1-1 and sit in a position where they must start performing on a more consistent note.
Newcastle have shown flashes that they can contend this season but have not done it for a full 80 minutes in the first two rounds.
They have fixed their defensive problems so far which last season was their ultimate demise, only conceding a total of 24 points in two games, but their attack looks stalled and it goes to show as they only have 28 points to show for it so far.
Newcastle will now look forward and will look to show that they are a worthy team to play September footy, their fluency will come after time and it may require some patience from their fans.
Tries: James Fisher-Harris, Frank Winterstein, Isaah Yeo
Goals: Nathan Cleary 2/3
Drop Goals: N/A
Tries: Edrick Lee, Mitchell Barnett
Goals: Kalyn Ponga 3/4
Drop Goals: N/A
NEWCASTLE: 1 Connor Watson, 2 Edrick Lee, 3 Hymel Hunt, 4 Jesse Ramien, 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6 Kalyn Ponga, 7 Mitchell Pearce, 8 David Klemmer, 9 Danny Levi, 10 James Gavet, 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12 Sione Mata’utia, 13 Tim Glasby. Interchange: 14 Kurt Mann, 15 Aidan Guerra, 16 Mitchell Barnett, 17 Herman Ese’ese.
PENRITH: 1 Dylan Edwards, 21 Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, 3 Dean Whare, 4 Waqa Blake, 5 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 6 James Maloney, 7 Nathan Cleary, 8 James Tamou, 9 Sione Katoa, 16 Moses Leota, 11 James Fisher-Harris, 12 Isaah Yeo, 13 Hame Sele. Interchange: 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 14 Wayde Egan, 15 Frank Winterstein, 17 Jack Hetherington.