Panthers hand Knights the wooden spoon
The Penrith Panthers have ended their season on a high and handed the wooden spoon to Newcastle after coming out on top with a 30-12 victory thanks to a star showing from fullback and former Knight Will Smith.
Smith produced 173 metres, 12 points, two line breaks and four tackle busts as Penrith leaned on the fullback to come up with the big plays without any recognised halves in the team.
In saying that, stand-in five-eighth Tyrone Peachey's two tries and halfback Apisai Koroisau's three try assists were just as crucial in the win.
The result sees Penrith temporally jump to 11th on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder, while the Knights are resigned to the second wooden spoon in the club's history – barring a miracle 82-point Dragons win over the Wests Tigers.
A very thin silver lining for the Knights comes from the fact that both times Newcastle have taken the spoon they have recorded 20 competition points – the most by a last-placed team in history.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary praised his team's effort in the face of a horror injury toll this season.
"I thought the boys played really well today. And it showed a lot of heart, I thought, which has been evident right through the year," Cleary said.
"I haven't sat here and made excuses and I'm not going to start today, but there's definitely, there's a lot of reasons. In 25 years in the NRL, I've never seen a season like we had. And that started in the pre-season - 20 players injured in the pre-season - and it ended up telling."
Smith crossed for first points within five minutes for the Panthers when he weaved his way through a gaping hole in Newcastle's defence from 25 metres out.
Penrith extended their lead to eight midway through the first half when Smith kicked a penalty goal.
After a poor start Newcastle got back into the contest when forward Clint Newton powered his way over with three Panthers on his back to score in the 28th minute.
The Knights came up with a 12-8 lead with three minutes remaining in the first half when fullback Jake Mamo plucked Tyrone Roberts's bomb from the air to cross just right of the uprights.
Panthers centre Dean Whare pegged back the lead in the 46th minute when he blasted on to an Apisai Koroisau unders ball to score.
A 70-metre intercept from Panthers debutant Chris Smith set up their next try, with Peachey leaping his way over the line on the very next tackle.
Brutal defence from Whare kept the Knights out of attacking range, but it was a shot on Whare himself by Knights winger Nathan Ross that caused a ruckus which had everyone, including the Panthers' cheerleaders, involved.
The Panther's penalty off the back of it came to nothing, but a further error from Ross and poor discipline afterwards led to winger Josh Mansour coming up with the goods out wide with 10 minutes remaining.
Peachey's second try of the afternoon capped off a memorable afternoon for the Panthers after he picked up the scraps from a misplaced Dane Gagai offload, while departing stand-in captain David Simmons's conversion secured the 18-point win.
Penrith Panthers 30 (Tyrone Peachey 2, Will Smith, Dean Whare, Josh Mansour Tries; Will Smith 4, David Simmons Goals) defeated Newcastle Knights 12 (Clint Newton, Jake Mamo Tries; Tyrone Roberts 2 Goals) at Pepper Stadium. Crowd: 8936. Half-time: Knights 12-8. On Report: Tariq Sims (Knights).