The Penrith Panthers showed that they still have what it takes to get the competition points with a 38 – 20 victory over the Newcastle Knights on Saturday afternoon.
Nathan Cleary (shoulder), James Fisher-Harris (shoulder), Brian To’o (knee), and Liam Martin (leg) all absent from the Penrith lineup due to injuries, as well as the players who departed at the end of last season.
The Panthers had quite a few positions to fill to maintain their strength across the field and avoid Newcastle finding any weak spots in their defence.
The Panthers weren’t the only ones with players in the casualty ward, with Newcastle also missing key players from their lineup.
David Klemmer was having minor surgery this weekend for an injury picked up in the round 1 game against the Roosters, Lachlan Fitzgibbon injured his MCL (possible grade 3) and is awaiting a decision by the surgeon.
Kalyn Ponga was also a late withdrawal due to a minor MCL complaint.
Both teams delivered an action-packed performance in front of the near-sellout crowd at Carrington Park in Bathurst, with approximately 13,000 spectators in attendance.
With both teams coming into this game with 2 wins to start their season, only one could win and after the first 20 minutes, it was hard to tell which team that would be.
The game wasn’t just very close to start with, it was also quite physical.
In the 5th minute, Knights hooker Chris Randall was put on report for a crusher tackle on Charlie Staines, then 2 minutes later Mitch Barnett repeated the ugly tackle technique on Izack Tago.
Taylan May put Penrith on the scoreboard in the 8th minute, scoring his first try in the NRL in only his 2nd career game after playing 1 game last season, but that wasn’t his only one for the afternoon.
May went on to score 2 more tries in the 37th minute and then again in the 77th minute, his first career hat trick.
Newcastle came close to levelling the score when Tex Hoy made a breakthrough Penrith’s defence and offloaded to Tyson Frizell who couldn’t maintain possession and was ruled to have knocked on.
Frizell claimed the ball didn’t come off his hands, which lead to a captain’s challenge and a bunker review.
While the bunker could not see the ball come off Frizell’s hands, they also said the evidence was inconclusive, leading to Newcastle maintaining their challenge, but the on-field decision of knock-on would stay.
It wasn’t too much longer until Newcastle fans had something to celebrate with towering centre Dominic Young going over after a Dane Gagai flick pass in the 19th minute and Jake Clifford successfully converting to take the lead 6-4.
Kurt Mann found himself in a bit of trouble with 15 minutes left of the half when he took a kick to the groin area. He was seen hunched over in agony before a trainer ran on to assess him.
The replay showed an accidental swift kick to the family jewels, however, the independent doctor in the bunker requested Mann come off 2 minutes later to be assessed for an HIA as it also appeared that he copped a bit of a head knock in the tackle.
Mann was cleared of any head injuries and passed all necessary testing before he returned to the field.
The bunker isn’t messing around with players going in for tackles and either laying down or getting up very slowly, this could see many more players being taken from the field throughout the rest of the season.
With less than 10 minutes before halftime, Knights lock Mitch Barnett was involved in an unprovoked incident while coming across the field to defend the line that may prove very costly not only in this game, but for the next few.
While moving across the field and in what can only be described as a brain snap, Barnett raised his forearm and made contact with the jaw and throat of Panther Chris Smith who wasn’t in possession of the ball or even in the play.
Smith dropped to the ground and didn’t move.
The incident was reviewed and Barnett was put on report and was the first Knight since Kade Snowden in 2013 to be sent from the field for the duration of the game.
The hit left many stunned, with Cooper Cronk describing the incident as “ugly and stupid”. Cronk agreed with the send-off decision and said Barnett “will be spending a long long time on the sidelines”.
Benji Marshall added it was unnecessary, a moment of madness and that it could “cost his team potentially the game” as they were left to play 40+ minutes with only 12 men.
Penrith were given a penalty, with Crichton converting to bring the scores level at 6 all, followed by the 2nd Taylan May try. Penrith went into the sheds at halftime leading 12-6.
Coming into the 2nd half it was announced that Chris Smith failed his HIA, but there was not much concern for a serious jaw injury. As a result, Penrith brought in 18th man Lindsay Smith.
Newcastle nearly found themselves over the line less than 3 minutes into the second half with a 60+ meter run courtesy of Kurt Mann breaking through and running up the field before passing to Tex Hoy.
They were almost certain to get over in the plays following this break, but Dane Gagai lost possession close to the line.
Penrith cub Izack Tago scored in the 49th minute, beating Dane Gagai to the ball after a well-positioned kick from Sean O’Sullivan. Crichton added the extras and Penrith saw themselves up by 12.
Newcastle had not given up, though, with Tex Hoy scoring in the 53rd minute and Jake Clifford adding the extras.
This game could have gone either way at this stage, leaving many punters questioning if they could pick the winner.
In the 57th minute, Izack Tago went over for his second try of the game, creating a bigger margin for Newcastle to chase. Crichton added the extras with ease and the 12 point buffer was back.
Stephen Crichton didn’t want to miss out on the try-scoring action, crossing moments after his previous conversion in a corner that the Knights left wide open.
Newcastle big man Bradman Best took an opportunity to catch a flat-footed Crichton off guard, charging over the line in the 63rd minute and it was back to a 12 point lead with 15 minutes left.
Tyson Frizell sent a scare through the Knights coach’s box going to the ground clutching his left knee with less than 15 minutes left to play.
After a few assessments, the trainer strapped him up and he continued to play, although he appeared to do so cautiously.
The Knights were looking to close in on Penrith with an Enari Tuala try in the 71st minute, but Jake Clifford couldn’t land the crucial conversion.
The Knights had 6 minutes to score 8 points in order to send the game into golden point or convert at least 1 of 2 tries to take the 2 points back to the Hunter region.
Taylan May went over in the 77th minute to complete his hat trick and end Newcastle’s hopes of winning, running past Young and scoring in the corner, and although Crichton missed the conversion, Penrith had done enough to secure the 2 points.
With just over a minute left, Charlie Staines put the icing on the cake, scoring Penrith’s 7th try of the game and his 21st try in just 26 games.
Crichton added the extras to make it an 18 point defeat.
PENRITH PANTHERS: 38 TRIES (T. May 3; I. Tago 2; S. Crichton; C. Staines) GOALS: S. Crichton 4/7 PENALTY GOALS: S. Crichton 1/1
NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: 20 TRIES (D. Young; T. Hoy; B. Best; E. Tuala) GOALS: J. Clifford 2/4
JUDICIARY: C. Randall (NEW), M. Barnett (NEW), D. Saifiti (NEW)
LOZ’S STAND OUT PLAYERS: Dominic Young (NEW); Tex Hoy (NEW); Bradman Best (NEW); Taylan May (PEN); Charlie Staines (PEN); Izack Tago (PEN)