By Emma Duxbury

Newcastle opened their 2014 VB NSW Cup campaign with a 24-14 win over the Penrith Panthers at Sportingbet Stadium last Saturday.

It didn’t start too well for the home side with Chanel Mata’utia scooting behind the defenders to get the ball down near the corner post. The kick from Josh Mantellato missed and the visitors took a 4-0 lead.

The Panthers were struggling to find any momentum and the Knights were all over them in their own half. It wasn’t long before they crossed again up the left side. Five-eighth Tyler Randell lobbed a kick over everyone’s heads before Chanel Mata’utia caught it mid-air, before planting it down for his second try of the day. This time the conversion was good and Newcastle extended their lead to 10-0 after 15 minutes.

Penrith sent the ball right through several players, before Nathan Smith gave it to Will Smith, who danced around a couple of Knights defenders and skipped over the line just right of the posts. He tried to convert his own try but missed, so the score went to 10-4.

A few minutes later, the Panthers went over again. The ball went wide to the left, over everyone’s heads to where Aiono was waiting. He plucked it out of the air and sprinted to the line, diving over just before being tackled. Smith’s sideline conversion was good, which levelled the scores at 10-all, scoreline that remained until half-time.

The second half began like the first, the Newcastle the first to put points on the board. In the 44th minute, halfback Matt Minto put a grubber kick to the in-goal, both teams had players chasing, but it was Chanel’s brother Pat Mata’utia who beat everyone and managed to ground the ball before it went dead. The conversion missed, to the visitors took a 14-10 lead.

A ball fumble by Penrith saw Newcastle take possession, they got the ball out wide to Pat Mata’utia who flicked it beautifully to winger Josh Mantellato who crossed near the corner post. The sideline conversion was off target, but the Knights had extended their lead to 18-10, with 30 minutes left on the clock.

The Knights made the most of their time with the ball, and with 19 minutes on the clock the Minto-Mata’utia combo bagged them another try. Minto’s kick found Chanel Mata’utia right on the sideline, and he dived over, taking the corner post with him. The kick was good so Newcastle took a 24-10 lead.

The Panthers managed to hold the Knights out for the rest of the match, and managed one more try of their own. It came through Tom Eisenhuth in the 68th minute, who side stepped a few defenders and ran over virtually unopposed. Smith missed the conversion, so the score went to 24-14.

For the remaining 10 minutes, Newcastle dominated possession and controlled the game. Five-eighth Isaac John made one last desperate attempt for another try, with a kick through to Dallin Watene-Zelezniak on the wing, but a bad bounce saw it head into touch.

This weekend the Panthers head up to Wyong on Saturday evening to face the Roos while the Knights return home to host Mounties on Sunday afternoon.

Newcastle Knights 24 (C Mata’utia 3, P Mata’utia, J Mantellato tries; J Mantellato 2 goals) def. Penrith Panthers 14 (W Smith, E Aiono, T Eisenhuth tries; W Smith goal) at Sportingbet Stadium.