Newcastle fought off a stuttering Penrith side tonight to secure a hard fought 30-18 despite getting hammered in the penalty department and having to play most of the match with very little possession.
The Knights showed how much their defence as improved, as the not only had to deal with wave after wave of Panthers attack but also a very lopsided penalty count that at times was questioned by the Channel 9 commentary team. Referee Gavin Badger 3 times cautioning Knights captain Kurt Gidley over the lopsided count threatening sin bin action, but realistically the Knights were getting the raw end of the deal – as the local crowd rode the away side all night to ensure they were frequently penalised. The Panthers were given way too much latitude in the ruck and were able to slow the visiting Knights side down without infringing most of the night; given their advantage – the Panthers should no doubt have won this match.
Knights playmaker Kurt Gidley was a standout for the visitors and drew comparisons to Andrew Johns as he worked tirelessly and skillfully for Newcastle most of the night. Gidley had little help in attack, as the Knights felt the effects of a rising tackle count as they fought to regain possession for a major part of the match.
Gidley started out at dummy half in attack before dropping back to rally his troops in defence from fullback in the five-tries-to-three triumph.
He scored 14 points on the night, including a brilliant individual try in the opening half before setting up the decisive four-pointer with only 15 minutes left in the game.
The victory enhanced Newcastle’s finals chances but also showed up a disappointing Panthers outfit who missed an opportunity to shore up their spot in the top eight. The Panthers looked good on occasion when they setup deep line movements in attack, but unlike last week against the Eels the Knights chose to herd the attacking fringe players towards the sideline and the slippery conditions worked against the home side.
The Knights tried to put pressure on rookie Penrith five-eighth Wade Graham from the opening minutes but it backfired with a late hit from Junior Sau handing the Panthers a free trip up the park.
In the fifth minute, halfback Luke Lewis put Trent Waterhouse through a gap to score under the posts for the first of his two tries.
The Panthers added a penalty minutes later for an 8-0 lead before acting hooker Gidley sparked his side in the 11th minute.
He scooted from dummy half some 30m out from the tryline and sprinted through some ordinary defence behind the ruck before dummying his way past youngster Lachlan Coote.
The Knights maintained their physical assault on the Panthers and five-eighth Chris Bailey typified that effort as he barged over from dummy half in the 25th minute.
The Panthers started to open up the Knights out wide as the half wore on and winger Brad Tighe levelled the scores just before halftime.
Penrith looked to have set up a try five minutes after the break but it was called back for a marginal forward pass on their own 30m line.
The home side’s frustration only grew in the 48th minute as the Knights used the field position with halfback Jarrod Mullen putting Chris Houston through for the home side to open up a 18-12 gap.
The Panthers fought back, pressing the Newcastle defence with Knights winger James McManus doing his best to keep his side’s tryline intact before Waterhouse found space to cross on the other side of the field.
But the Panthers were their own worst enemy with a wild pass minutes later gifting the Knights field position.
Gidley slotted a penalty moments later before the outstanding utility made the decisive play by shrugging off two defenders before putting big prop Daniel Tolar through for a match-winning 26-18 lead in the 65th minute.
Newcastle coach Brian Smith described it as his side’s “gutsiest performance” since taking over the reins at the Knights at the beginning of the 2007 season.
There was good reason for such lofty praise as the Knights were forced into a major reshuffle before kick-off and were missing the likes of Danny Buderus, Steve Simpson and Ben Cross.
Not to mention being on the wrong side of the penalty count, 10-4.
Smith admitted the Knights’ finals ambitions would have been all but floored with a loss and expressed his amazement at man-of-the-match Gidley’s energy levels.
“I don’t know how anyone can do it,” he said of Gidley’s dual roles at hooker and fullback.
Panthers coach Matthew Elliott also had some kind words for the utility.
“He played great and if you don’t put players of that quality under pressure … and really when you look at that team it was going to be down to him,” he said.
“He did not really have a lot of friends out there to help him out. Mullen is a very good player but Gidley was fantastic.”
NEWCASTLE 30 (C Houston 2 K Gidley C Bailey D Tolar tries Gidley 5 goals) bt PENRITH 18 (T Waterhouse 2 B Tighe tries L Coote 3 goals) at CUA Stadium. Referee: G Badger. Crowd: 10,029.