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Newcastle's 2021 campaign was brought to a close by a penalty try in which Clint Gutherson admitted to a dropped ball in the lead-up, but the play has been cleared as being within the NRL rules.

Knights coach Adam O'Brien declined to comment on the controversial 76th-minute penalty try to Will Penisini that blew a tense 22-20 scoreline out to eight, ending Newcastle's season in the process.

Winger Enari Tuala was ruled to have taken out Penisini as he pursued a Gutherson grubber, with vision appearing to show the Steeden hitting the turf a millisecond before the Eels skipper's slipper connects with it.

Gutherson told Fox Sports in his post-match sideline interview "it was a well-placed drop kick".

"I was trying to kick it, obviously I could've passed it and we would've scored but it fell our way and we'll take it."

Match Highlights: Eels v Knights

With the NRL rules stating a drop kick is "whereby the ball is dropped from the hands (or hand) and is kicked immediately after it rebounds from the ground", a similar scenario involving Billy Slater in 2018 led to the NRL clarifying the ruling.

Then-NRL referees boss Bernard Sutton said "it’s important to note that a drop-kick can occur at any time during a match and does not have to be an attempt at a field goal".

Commentators debated whether it was only a professional foul or worthy of a penalty try but the Bunker was adamant Knights fullback Kalyn Ponga was not close enough to stop Penisini from scoring if he had have been able to collect the ball but for Tuala's illegal tackle.

O'Brien instead preferring to focus on the parts of the game his team should have controlled better.

He his side may have clocked off shortly before half-time in their elimination final loss to the Eels, conceding two vital tries in the five minutes before the break.

"I'll save myself some cash," O'Brien smiled when asked for his thoughts on the incident.

"The two tries before half-time hurts me more than that one. We control that stuff before half-time.

"That's what we’ve got to get better at. You take care of those things there, the try at the end's not important.

"We switched off mentally and it cost us a couple of tries."

Despite those lapses, O'Brien was proud of the fight in the group, who were not widely tipped to trouble an Eels side that shut down minor premiers Melbourne two weeks earlier.

"I've got a shattered dressing room; they fought so hard, I'm really proud of them," O'Brien said.

"Field position cost us in the end. We were camped down our own end and we'd like to have the five minutes before half time over again.

"When we were in the washing machine we were going well then just before half-time there were some stoppages, we switched off mentally, there were some system errors and it cost us two tries."

O'Brien had some high praise for fullback Kalyn Ponga, who came up with some big attacking plays.

O'Brien praises Ponga and refuses to blame penalty try for loss

"I thought he was great right from the start," he said.

"I thought he was really sharp with the footy. Collectively they were brave, they were really brave.

"There was some polish there from Kalyn that was something we need to hang onto over the summer and work out how we want to attack and nail it. There's plenty of courage and ticker in this group."

Fighting back from being near the bottom of the ladder to make the finals with five straight wins from round 20 was a huge effort, he added.

Build from basics: Attacking prowess of Moses sparked from defence

"We were 14th not that long ago. We reset the ladder and really improved in a lot of areas," he said.

"We got some personnel back, I know it's been reported some other clubs have had some big injury tolls but none more so than this joint. For two years now. I don't want to use that as an excuse.

"We have to develop everyone but we handed some jerseys to some young kids that probably got more games than we would have thought at the start of the year. I think we're in a good place to build, it takes time to build success. We're on the right track but we can't take our focus off it."

"We'll enjoy the summer but come back ready to work hard and identify a couple of key areas, particularly with the ball, that we can get better at and train the backside out of it and come back bigger and stronger."


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