Two tackles by mercurial playmaker James Maloney inspired Penrith to a grafting 16-14 victory over Newcastle at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night.
Leading 10-8 at half-time and 16-8 for much of the second half, the Panthers staved off Newcastle’s late rally to register their first win of the season after succumbing 20-12 at home to Parramatta last Sunday.
So often maligned for the number of tackles he has missed during his career, the NSW and dual premiership-winning pivot made a try-saving tackle on Knights winger Edrick Lee in the 69th minute to preserve Penrith’s eight-point lead.
Three minutes earlier, Maloney’s front-on shot on his former Roosters team-mate Connor Watson on a kick return jolted the ball loose to give the Panthers possession deep in Newcastle territory.
Maloney's brilliant try saver
The Knights threatened to steal the game with another late surge when bench forward Mitch Barnett charged over to score next to the posts in the 73rd minute, cutting the deficit to 16-14 after Kalyn Ponga’s conversion from in front.
The Newcastle supporters in the crowd of 19,451 dared to dream of another comeback win when Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary spilled his own last-tackle clearing kick in the 76th minute.
That gave the Knights a gilt-edged opportunity to attack from the middle of the field, but prop James Gavet lost the ball in a tackle and the chance was gone.
Match: Knights v Panthers
Round 2 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Though they toiled to the end against one of the premiership favourites, it was a mostly frustrating night for the Knights, who were trying to build on their first-up 14-8 win against Cronulla eight days earlier.
They were let down by poor handling at vital times, lacked polish or enterprise at the end of many of their attacking sets, and could not dominate Penrith’s pack the same way they did against the Cronulla forwards.
Penrith led 10-8 at half-time after seeing off Newcastle’s early onslaught then gaining the upper hand courtesy of hard, straight running by bench forwards Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Jack Hetherington.
Campbell-Gillard entered the game in the 22nd minute and Hetherington arrived eight minutes later and took on Newcastle’s forwards in the middle of the field to give the Panthers the ascendancy.
Penrith hit the front in the 35th minute, punishing Watson and winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall for allowing Nathan Cleary’s stab kick to sit up in-goal and electing not to knock it dead.
Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, who started on the left wing for the injured Josh Mansour (shoulder), batted the ball back and Panthers debutant Frank Winterstein grounded it for an opportunist’s try. Winterstein had only joined the Panthers from Manly last week.
Panthers never give up the chase
Cleary converted for a 10-8 lead, having missed an earlier conversion attempt after James Fisher-Harris crashed over to score their first try in the 19th minute for a 4-2 lead.
A 5-2 penalty count helped the Knights dominate field position in the first 15 minutes but a Ponga penalty goal for a 2-0 lead was all they had to show for it.
Maloney was penalised twice in the space of two minutes for high tackles on Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Tim Glasby, but neither was reported by referee David Munro.
Watson had a try disallowed in the fourth minute because video review official Henry Perenara ruled Fitzgibbon impeded Panther prop James Tamou in the defensive line. Watson had his right knee strapped two minutes later but continued.
Ponga cut out Fitzgibbon and centre Hymel Hunt to send Lee over in the corner for Newcastle’s first try in the 28th minute, then converted from the sideline for an 8-4 lead.
Ponga sends Lee over
Penrith suffered an early blow when back-rower Isaah Yeo was helped from the field after suffering a head knock tackling Ponga.
Yeo, who was left concussed by Michael Jennings’s high tackle last Sunday, returned in the 30th minute then scored a try five minutes into the second half to extend Penrith’s lead to 16-8.
Ponga had conceded a penalty when he took out Dylan Edwards chasing a Maloney kick, and from the subsequent set of six, Maloney turned Yeo inside and he crashed through attempted tackles by Watson, Danny Levi, Herman Ese’ese and Sione Mata’utia to touch down near the posts.
Newcastle had a chance to hit back four minutes later when Mitchell Pearce trickled a grubber kick into Penrith’s in-goal but Ponga dived and missed trying to ground the ball.
Mansour’s injury gave Malakai Watene-Zelezniak a start on the left wing.
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary chose to start with Moses Leota in the front row and used Campbell-Gillard from the bench.