Newcastle have come from 16-4 down to inflict a shock but deserved 26-20 win over a Penrith side boasting the likes of Matt Moylan, Waqa Blake, Peta Hiku and Viliame Kikau at St Marys Stadium.
The score looked like it could have amounted to anything as Penrith skipped out to a 16-4 lead with ten minutes remaining in the first half but some errors coming off their line enabled the Novacastrians to out-score the pre-season premiership favourites 22-4 over the remaining fifty minutes in what is easily the biggest upset of the season to date in this competition.
The Knights showed plenty of commitment during the second half defending several sets as the home side were the beneficiary of five straight penalties but Penrith only had a show and go try from Hiku with seven minutes remaining, before a penalty goal from Kainoa Gudgeon in the closing minutes, sealed a famous win for Newcastle.
The win for the Knights, led by their halves Will Pearsell and Jaelen Feeney was all the more impressive considering they went into the game without Jacob Saifiti, Tom Hughes and Luke Yates.
A frantic start from both sides set the scene for an absorbing battle, with Newcastle not afraid to go toe-to-toe with their more illustrious opponents and were rewarded for their adventurous play with an unconverted try to Jacob Gagan in the 8th minute after winger Lachlan Stein was caught in no man’s land in defence by a beautiful cut-out pass from Nick Meaney.
Penrith were stung into action to score the next sixteen points unanswered.
Some strong defensive work from the Panthers forced a turnover from the Knights just 10m out from their own try line and in the ensuing set, Kaide Ellis levelled the scores running onto a short pass from Mitch Rein.
A bending run at the line ad a quick play the ball midway through the half from Paea Pua allowed Mitch Rein to score his third try in as many weeks with a quick dart from dummy half catching the Newcastle napping to give the home side a six-point advantage.
That lead was doubled when Darren Nicholls, who was denied a try in the previous set of six, was the beneficiary of some smart lead-up work from Matt Moylan, who toyed with the Knights defence before finding the five-eighth to score under the posts.
But Penrith who were dominating the Knights both territorially and with possession, somehow had crucial lapses in concentration when coming off their own line in the closing minutes, allowing the Knights to go into the sheds at halftime level on points 16-all through converted tries to Gagan (his second) and interchange forward Tyrone Amey.
Having conceded possession for Newcastle to score on the stroke of half-time, Christian Crichton’s night went from bad to worse, failing to take a cross-field kick.
The error enabled the Knights to regain a lead they would never concede for the remainder of the game after a sweeping movement to Penrith’s left edge saw Braden Robson get the better of Hiku to score out wide to give Newcastle a shock 22-16 lead.
Undisciplined play from the Panthers enabled the Knights to go even further in front 24-16 before a plethora of penalties on Newcastle’s line eventually proved telling when Hiku scored from dummy half to reduce the gap to four and set up a grandstand finish.
But despite the best efforts of Moylan and co to get their side back into the game, Penrith’s game unravelled in attempting to play catch-up football and the Knights, through another penalty goal to Gudgeon, secured a memorable win for Simon Woolford’s relative team of unknowns by comparison to the team they opposed.
Newcastle 26 (J Gagan 2, T Amey, B Robson tries; K Gudgeon 5 goals) Penrith Panthers 20 (K Ellis, M Rein, D Nicholls, P Hiku tries; D Nicholls 2 goals)