A spirited performance from the Newcastle Knights seemed to have been just enough to ensure an upset victory over the Panthers, but a relentless late-surge from the ladder-leaders helped record a 22-20 victory at Penrith Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Match: Panthers v Knights
Round 23 -
Venue: Panthers Stadium
Although taking a 10-6 lead into half-time, a second-half hat-trick from Jacob Gagai galvanised the Knights to a handy 20-10 lead following some uncharacteristic errors from the Panthers throughout a majority of the contest.
The Knights were defiant in defence as the Panthers constantly threatened with the ball-in-hand, but despite their best efforts throughout the game, a late try to Samuel Smith and sideline conversion from Adam Keighran iced a remarkable comeback victory.
Both teams were guilty of some lacklustre efforts on either side of the ball with poor handling errors and ill-discipline proving costly at certain stages, with the Knights completing at just over 50% throughout the entire first-half.
Tom Hughes went close to giving his side the perfect start with a determined run down the left-hand touchline, only for a last-ditch effort from Kaide Ellis managing to push the Knights flyer into touch just moments before scoring.
Their blistering start continued when Starford Toa followed suit with another evasive run giving the Knights a golden opportunity to draw first blood, with Beau Fermer taking full advantage with a classy effort from close-range just a few tackles later.
Some quick thinking from Liam Coleman ensured the Knights lead was short-lived with a quick-tap from just over 10 metres out from the try-line catching the defence napping.
Keighran converted to draw the game level at 6-all after 22 minutes of play.
The Panthers looked threatening at stages however were unable to capitalise on valuable field position as the committed Newcastle defence held strong, but a try to Christian Crichton in the dying stages of the 40-minutes ensured a 10-6 lead at the break.
The Knights came out firing in the opening stages of the second-half with some powerful surges through the middle-third, before a bullet pass from Jack Johns found an unmarked to Jacob Gagai to set a 10-all scoreline after 43 minutes.
Brimming with confidence, the Knights crossed for back-to-back tries within a rapid-fire two-minute period after some impressive footwork from centre Mitchell Andrews helped him get on the outside of his counterpart, before a handy offload to Gagai saw the winger cross for his second unanswered try.
Johns was unable to convert as the Knights snatched an unlikely 14-10 lead at just 50 minutes.
Gagai remarkably crossed for his hat-trick just moments later when he was the beneficiary of a sublime cut-out pass from Jack Cogger, as the classy halfback took advantage of some aggressive outside defence with a floating left-to-right pass to give his side a healthy 10-point buffer.
Momentum quickly shifted when Aekins crossed for a crucial try only for an obstruction ruled to have interfered with the Knights defence, however, a dynamic run from Ratu Tuisese ignited a Keighran try just a few tackles later.
A try with just five minutes remaining from Samuel Smith in the right-hand corner gifted Keighran the perfect chance to win the game with a sideline conversion, and he made no mistake despite the wind causing plenty of havoc as the Panthers recorded a valiant two-point victory.