The Newcastle Knights did just enough to escape with a two-point win – and exact grand final revenge – in front of their home fans at Hunter Stadium.
Newcastle raced to a 16-0 lead but the reigning premiers, Penrith, came surging back in the second half to tie things up with just minutes remaining. A fortuitous penalty to the home side with just seconds remaining, though, was enough to give the Knights the win.
Newcastle started in great fashion when Jaelen Feeney barged over off the back of a determined run from 10 metres out, shrugging off a host of would-be tacklers.
Some ill-disciplined play from the Panthers, in particular half Sam Scarlett who kicked out on the full then gave away a penalty, invited the Knights into another scoring opportunity.
A simple run-around play between Knights hooker Chad Redman and veteran back-rower Clint Newton saw the rake cross for a four-pointer to stretch their lead to 10.
Another attacking movement, this time a right-to-left shift just five minutes later, saw Marvin Filipo burst through the front line and commando roll his way across the tryline
A Danny Kerr penalty goal 40 metres out on the stroke of half-time stretched the Knights’ half-time advantage to 16 – a reflection of the home side’s hard work if not their on-field efficiency which, just like the Panthers, was at times questionable.
The Panthers’ woes continued right after the break – remarkably, no doubt with coach Garth Brennan’s words ringing in their ears, the side saw the kick-off bounce into touch.
The visitors, though, held out Newcastle – and, against the run of play, the premiers hit back with a try at the southern end of the ground to Nu’u Akeripa after 50 minutes.
A few minutes later former Shark Tupou Sopoaga put Waqa Blake through a hole, sprinting 25 metres before throwing the ball inside for Rodney Coates to crash over. All of a sudden, after first-half dominance, the Knights led by just six with almost 20 minutes remaining.
The Knights on numerous occasions threatened to seal the deal but let key opportunities slip as the game hung in the balance. It looked likely they’d be punished with just four minutes left in the match.
The Panthers levelled the scores when David Simmons caught a bomb and palmed it down to Sione Katoa, who burst through a gap before finding Scarlett, who ran 10 metres to crash over. Will Smith’s conversion tied the game.
The match descended into a frenzy – decidedly different from the preceding events – with just a couple of minutes remaining. In the final 60 seconds it was the Knights who held firm and maintained vital field position.
Two field-goal attempts were charged down by the Panthers but the third ultimately proved the difference. Again blocked by Penrith’s desperate defence, the ball rebounded into Panther hands – a player judged offside straight in front of the uprights.
Redman showed nerves of steel to kick the penalty as the siren sounded, gifting his side a memorable victory as well as grand final revenge.
Newcastle Knights 18 (Jaelen Feeney, Chad Redman, Marvin Filipo tries; Honeti Tuha, Danny Kerr, Redman goals) bt Penrith Panthers 16 (Nu’u Akeripa, Sam Scarlett, Rodney Coates tries; Will Smith 2 goals)