Penrith put their top-four chances in the Telstra Premiership in a perilous position with an insipid 20-12 loss to the Knights after the game erupted into a large brawl close to full-time which ending up with four players sin-binned.
The game ended with just 22 players on the field after Danny Levi and Shaun Kenny-Dowall for the Knights, alongside Tyrone May and Viliame Kikau for the Panthers, were sent to the sin-bin by referee Ben Cummins.
They bore the brunt of the 76th-minute brawl, which involved a host of player following the initial flare-up by Kenny-Dowall and Kikau.
So where to know for the Panthers, who looked directionless without their injured five-eighth and skipper James Maloney?
Wins by the Dragons, Sharks and Warriors this weekend would draw them level with the Panthers on 30 points on the NRL ladder. And with Cameron Ciraldo's men set to face the Warriors in Auckland in round 24 and then Storm in Melbourne in round 25, the prospects of remaining in the top-four look slim at best, especially if the Panthers dish up the same disorganization they had against the Knights.
Maybe the pressure of all that was the root cause of the brawl. But there was to be no miracle comeback this time for the Panthers.
Match Highlights: Panthers v Knights – Round 23, 2018
They had been down by 10 points against the Gold Coast late in the game and won; down by 12 against Canberra and by 18 against Manly to pull off another two wins. But not against the Knights.
That was the ninth win by Nathan Brown's men for the season, and earned then great party-pooper status.
That was Tyrone Peachey's last game in Panthers colours before the home crowd after five seasons there.
It was also Ciraldo's first home game as head coach to give him a 1-1 record in his short tenure since taking over from Anthony Griffin.
It was an erratic start by both sides with eight errors and four penalties in the opening 10 minutes.
But then the Knights settled first with two tries – Aidan Guerra (12th minute) and Cory Denniss (17th) – within five miunutes. The blustery north-west wind meant a hard day at the office for Newcastle goal kicker Ken Sio, who missed both conversions.
Then Penrith scored their first points through five-eighth May off a dropped carry by Knights youngster Nick Meaney. Two minutes later Meaney made up for his mistake helping his centre Sione Mata'utia over the line in the 26th minute.
Brown: Ponga can play anywhere
The visitors were out to 14-6 and stayed there until half-time. Penrith had themselves to blame with a 59% completion rate (13 from 22 sets) and missing 25 tackles.
In the second half Penrith had the wind behind them, but seemed to abandon their kicking game. That combined with stout Knights defence meant points were not flowing for the home side.
Sio scored a fine try off crucial work by new Knights halves combination Michell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga in the 69th minute to seal it.
The Panthers utility Wayde Egan scored a consolation try in the 78th minute but the fight had well and truly gone out of the Panthers.
Match: Panthers v Knights
Round 23 -
Venue: Panthers Stadium
News & Notes: It was the Knights' first win over a team currently in the top-four after six losses... The Panthers ended a five-match winning streak against the Knights... The Knights now take on Cronulla at home while the Panthers head to New Zealand for the Warriors... Crowd: 14,125.