Penrith Panthers have overcome an early 12-0 deficit to record a fifth-straight Intrust Super Premiership win, downing the last-placed Newcastle Knights 36-26 to maintain their place atop the competition's standings.
Match: Knights v Panthers
Round 19 -
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
Unbeaten since Round 11, the Panthers were made to work by the gallant Knights side at Newcastle's McDonald Jones Stadium – a hat-trick to left-edge back-rower Billy Burns the key in the eventual 10-point win.
As has been the tale for much of their season, the Knights were under a mountain of early pressure on the back of an error – and compounded by consecutive penalties – the Panthers were gifted the best use of early possession.
To the hosts' credit, the Knights turned the Panthers away and rucked the ball out of their end through Brent Naden.
Wrestling back momentum and field position, the Knights earned two quick penalties of their own. Guided by NRL-experienced halves Brock Lamb and Jack Cogger, Newcastle found first points – courtesy of the latter's boot.
Cogger's deft kick towards the in-goal area sat up perfectly for the trailing run of Zac Hosking, who planted the ball down to see the Knights to a 4-0 lead. Lamb converted from in front of the posts, extending his side's advantage to six.
Few minutes had passed before the halves had linked again – this time with the help of their fullback, Matt Cooper, who provided in kind to back-rower Brodie Jones.
From the '9', to the '6' and then the '7', the spine would link in full as fullback Cooper cut through the flaky Panthers defence to score the Knights' second. Again, Lamb converted and Newcastle held a 12-0 lead.
The last-placed Knights joy was short-lived though, the Panthers' Corey Waddell crashed over as pressure and possession finally told.
Newcastle's early defensive efforts amounted to little when Hosking slipped and granted Waddell a saloon passage to the line to score. Adam Keighran converted to lessen the deficit to six.
The deficit was soon eradicated in full – bullocking winger Maika Sivo paving the way for Billy Burns to secure four points of his own.
The big Fijian left would-be defenders strewn across the turf, as Burns supported to have the side back to within two. Keighran again made no mistake from near-on in front of the uprights, ensuring the sides returned to the sheds at half-time, locked at 12.
At the change of ends, the second-half began much the same as the first finished – Billy Burns strolled over for another try to see the Panthers to the lead for the first time in the match.
A simple right-to-left shift – executed to perfection by the Panthers – saw halves Tyrone May and Keighran link with Burns, who went in all-but untouched for Penrith's third try. Keighran slotted the ensuing conversion to take the Panthers to a 18-12 front.
Penrith's six-point lead very quickly became more – a length-of-the-field effort, started by Sivo at the back, eventually had Ratu Tuisese into a clear passage which the flying outside back took full advantage of. Keighran maintained his perfect record of the boot to shoot the Panthers out by 12.
But the ever-determined Knights just wouldn't go away.
Back-to-back tries to the hosts in quick succession again saw the scores levelled, now at 24-all.
Lamb provided an inch-perfect grubber for his halves partner Cogger to first lessen the margin, before Cogger turned provider and sent Pat Mata'utia through a gaping hole to score. Lamb – with the pressure at its highest – made light work of the conversion to draw the scores level.
Good fortune followed the Knights who in the following sets of six earned a penalty in front of the Panthers' posts. Lamb opted for a gift two points to see the Knights to a 26-24 scoreline.
But again, their efforts were in vain, as Penrith ran in two tries in the space of eight minutes to snatch a dramatic win.
The tireless Burns sealed his hat-trick with a storming run through defenders to get the Panthers back the lead, before Sivo sealed the deal with his late try – Keighran remaining flawless with the boot, kicking six goals from as many attempts on the afternoon.
PENRITH 36 (B Burns 3 C Waddell R Tuisese M Sivo tries A Keighran 6 goals) bt NEWCASTLE 26 (Z Hosking B Jones J Cogger P Mata'utia tries B Lamb 5 goals)