NRL fans were treated to a wild afternoon of Rugby League at Campbelltown Stadium, in the end the two sides couldn’t be split after 80 minutes and another ten couldn’t produce a result either.
Both teams headed into their ‘resumed’ seasons after winning both of their opening matches earlier this year. Despite the match missing it’s two brightest stars in Nathan Cleary and Kalyn Ponga through suspension, this round three encounter still produced plenty of highlights and a thrilling finish.
Newcastle headed into the game without four starting players and it didn’t take long for the triage unit to get a couple more patients. Knights’ captain and best player Mitchell Pearce lasted just the 4 minutes as he got his head in the wrong position as he attempted a tackle on Panthers’ Stephen Crichton. A dazed Pearce was left heavily concussed and it was clear his afternoon was done, it didn’t take long for Connor Watson to join him on the sidelines, as he twisted his ankle attempting to chase down Viliame Kikau.
The early loss of key personal for the Knights had most people fearing the worst for a Newcastle side who have a history of folding under pressure. But Adam O’Brien’s men stuck at their task and defended their line resolutely. But with over 70% of the possession it was only a matter of time before the Panthers broke through, and it was no surprise it was Kikau who barged over beating three defenders in the process.
More sustained pressure off the back of a superb kicking game from young Panthers’ five-eighth Matt Burton led to another Penrith try, this time to Kikau’s second row partner Kurt Capewell, who was making his Panthers’ debut. To rub further salt into the wounds of the battered Knights, the Capewell try was ruled an 8-point try after Knights’ winger Edrick Lee kicked the try scorer in the head as he attempted to dislodge the ball from Capewell’s hands.
It looked as though Penrith would run away with the game at this stage, but Newcastle held on and scored a late try in the dying stages of the first half through Jacob Saifiti to give them some hope at halftime with the score 14-6. That try was the catalyst for a big resurgence from the Knights as they came out firing in the second half and they were first to score through Bradman Best after some quick passing from Aidan Guerra and Kurt Mann after a Tim Glasby offload.
The Knights had a sniff of victory and all the momentum as they started to believe they could find an unlikely victory. As the Knights lifted the Panthers wilted and the men from the Hunter had their third try to square the game up, again through left centre Bradman Best. Tex Hoy who was on debut, missed the sideline conversion leaving the game at 14-all which is how it stayed after 80 minutes.
An extra ten minutes of extra time was needed, but despite a flurry of field goals by Burton and a bombed try by Best the two sides couldn’t be separated as the match ended in a draw. Both sides will feel they should have won the game, but no doubt it would be the Knights who will feel they scored the morale victory after what they had to deal with during the match.
Newcastle were already missing three key players in Kalyn Ponga, Jayden Brailey and Mitch Barnett going into today’s game, things got worse in the morning when second rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon was a late scratching due to a hamstring injury. If the Knights thought they’d saw the worst of their luck they were wrong as they lost their play maker and most dangerous player in Pearce and Watson after seven minutes. To not only stay in the match but in the end take away one crucial competition point was a courageous effort that will be remembered for a long time at the club.
Glasby the Gladiator
Throughout his whole career Tim Glasby has always been an unsung hero, and even an un-sighted hero. Most of his hard work normally goes unnoticed as the Queensland Origin forward goes about is work with no frills or fan fare. But today his courage and determination was there for all to see, despite suffering a concussion and a bad leg cork, he still got through plenty of work and played a key hand in the Knights’ first two tries.
New Knights Star
It was a special day for the Newcastle Knights as they debuted no less than three players, all of whom were local products. Fullback Tex Hoy stood up and took responsibility when Pearce and Watson went down, whilst hooker Chris Randall made 71 tackles, a new NRL record for a player on debut. Cessnock product Brodie Jones was strong on the edge, whilst 4-game veteran Bradman Best was the star with two tries, although he should have had a hat-trick and the match winner.
Panthers miss Cleary
Although the Knights were missing more players, the omission of Penrith’s highest paid player Nathan Cleary was always going to be the biggest hole to fill. Cleary’s untimely Australia Day ‘Tik Tok’ saga left the Penrith playmaker with a two game suspension. In hindsight Penrith sorely lacked the guile and direction Cleary brings to the side as the Panthers had no idea how to close the match out. It was left to Burton who was playing his second NRL game to try and come up with the winning field goal, unfortunately for Burton he couldn’t come up with the play, but if not for a 10 second tik tok, Penrith would have had their million dollar man icing the game.
Penrith Panthers 14
Tries: Kikau, Capewell
Goals: Crichton 3/3
Newcastle Knights 14
Tries: Best (2), Jacob Saifiti
Goals: Hoy 1/3
Panthers: 1 Caleb Aekins 2 Josh Mansour 3 Dean Whare 14 Stephen Crichton 5 Brian To’o 6 Matt Burton 7 Jarome Luai 8 James Tamou 9 Apisai Koroisau 10 James Fisher-Harris 11 Viliame Kikau 12 Kurt Capewell 13 Isaah Yeo 15 Zane Tetevano 16 Moses Leota 18 Mitch Kenny 19 Billy Burn
Knights: 1 Tex Hoy 2 Edrick Lee 3 Enari Tuala 18 Bradman Best 5 Hymel Hunt 6 Kurt Mann 7 Mitchell Pearce 8 David Klemmer 9 Connor Watson 10 Daniel Saifiti 11 Lachlan Fitzgibbon 12 Sione Mata’utia 17 Aidan Guerra 16 Tim Glasby 13 Herman Ese’ese 14 Chris Randall 15 Jacob Saifiti 19 Brodie Jones