The Penrith Panthers were far too good for a depleted Newcastle Knights side, running out comfortable winners, 44-18 at MacDonald Jones Stadium today.
Penrith’s spine was impressive, especially five-eighth Te Maire Martin, who scored one and had a hand in four other tries. Not to be outdone, fullback Dylan Edwards scored a back-to-back double, while arguably the competition’s best player in 2017, Mitch Rein continued his strong form, also scoring two tries and setting up another. Darren Nicholls also capped a busy game with a try.
The home side’s chances of recording a much-needed win weren’t helped with the withdrawal of Brendan Elliott, Trent Hodkinson, Tyler Randall and Jack Stockwell although they were boosted by the unexpected inclusion of KARI City Origin winger, Nathan Ross who was dropped for disciplinary reasons.
By contrast, Penrith certainly came into this game feeling confident about their chances as their side was bolstered by the inclusion of Te Maire Martin, Moses Leota and Mitch Rein.
The Knights got off to a dream start, capitalising on back-to-back penalties to open the scoring after just six minutes when a cross-field kick was unable to be taken by Penrith winger Lachlan Stein, enabling the Knights to regather and score in the south-west corner through winger Thomas Cronan, converted by Nick Meaney.
But the Panthers hit back almost immediately after Newcastle made an error from the restart. Corey Waddell in heavy traffic still managed to get an offload which was gleefully accepted by Rein who dived over to score next to the posts, levelling the scores after nine minutes.
Penrith were soon in again and led 10-6 after 14 minutes, after they capitalised on a repeat set earned from a well-placed Martin kick. Jack Hetherington, sliced through on an inside line beyond the rushing Knights defensive line to score out wide after Martin provided a well-timed pass.
The game threatened to be turned on its ahead in the 25th minute when a high shot by Jack Hetherington that saw Will Pearson leave the field in a dazed state, was compounded when the back-rower threw a punch in the ensuing scuffle, leaving his team one man short.
And the Knights took full advantage from the ensuing penalty to regather the lead when Meaney shrugged off Sione Katoa before floating the pass out to unmarked Tom Hughes to score out wide.
But from there it was all Penrith, scoring three unanswered tries as they took a commanding 28-12 lead into half-time.
Nicholls was the first to score, showing some fancy footwork close to the line to crash his way over before Dylan Edwards scored back-to-back tries.
Penrith continued where they left off to open the scoring early in the second half, when Te Maire Martin fooled the Newcastle defence, shaping to pass outside only to step through the sliding defence to score out wide to extend the lead to 32-12.
Penrith put the game well beyond reach when that man Martin placed a kick into the in-goal that was pounced upon by Rein to score his second.
But the Panthers weren’t done with yet as Michael Oldfield capitalised on a spilled Martin kick to score out wide, to take the score out to 44-12 with still 15 minutes remaining on the clock.
Penrith looked set to bring up the half-century when Rein again broke through the middle only have his pass put down by Katoa with the try line at his mercy.
The Knights whilst outclassed, to their credit managed to capitalise on Penrith’s missed opportunity and were rewarded for their effort with a try to arguably their best player, Nick Meaney who scored next to the posts after taking an inside pass from Tom Starling.
Penrith Panthers 44 (M Rain 2, D Edwards 2, J Hetherington, D Nicholls, M Leota, M Oldfield tries; D Edwards 4, D Nicholls 2 goals) def Newcastle Knights 18 (T Cronan, T Hughes, N Meaney tries; N Meaney 3 goals)