Plucky Panthers cement top-four spot with victory over Newcastle

Injury-hit Penrith climbed to second on the NRL ladder with a gritty, grinding 29-18 win against Newcastle at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.

The Panthers, minus big names Nathan Cleary (knee), Josh Mansour (cheek), Waqa Blake (ankle) and Sam McKendry (knee), as well as Dylan Edwards (shoulder) and Moses Leota (pectoral), racked up their seventh win in 10 games.

Panthers forward Viliame Kikau powers ahead on Friday night.

For the Knights, it was their second successive loss at home after last week’s 36-18 defeat by South Sydney and left them 10th.

Inspired by prop Trent Merrin, who played just a week after surgery to repair a dislocated finger, the Panthers bounced back from last Friday’s loss to North Queensland in Bathurst.

Penrith led 18-6 at half-time, but the Knights were left ruing two costly errors by five-eighth Connor Watson.

After the Panthers raced to a 12-0 advantage through tries by prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Tyrone Peachey in the opening 16 minutes, Watson reduced the deficit when he scored from a Mitch Barnett offload in the 20th minute.

But Watson went from hero to villain in the space of 10 minutes.

Daniel Saifiti crashed over to touch down after a Brock Lamb pass in the 30th minute, only for a no-try decision after the video referee ruled Watson interfered with Penrith marker Tyrone Phillips.

Three minutes later, Watson supported a break by back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon but threw a wayward pass infield to Lamb.

The ball was regathered by Peachey, who turned scrambling defence into attack, evading a number of tackles before linking with fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, who scored out wide.

James Maloney’s third consecutive conversion gave the visitors a handy 12-point buffer at the interval.

Newcastle capitalised on a glut of possession early in the second half to claw their way back into the contest.

Eventually Penrith’s defence cracked when Lamb dummied past bench forward James Tamou and found fullback Kalyn Ponga, who raced away to score his second try for Newcastle.

Ken Sio’s conversion made it a six-point ball game, but the Knights lost possession in the ensuing set of six, and Maloney popped a field goal from right in front of the posts.

Six minutes later, Maloney extended the lead with a penalty goal.

A Corey Harawira-Naera try from a James Maloney chip kick in the 71st minute left the Knights facing an impossible task.

Newcastle centre Nathan Ross scored a consolation try in the 78th minute.

PENRITH 29 (R Campbell-Gillard C Harawira-Naera T Peachey D Watene-Zelezniak tries J Maloney 6 goals J Maloney field goal) bt NEWCASTLE 18 (K Ponga N Ross C Watson tries B Lamb 2 K Sio goals) at McDonald Jones Stadium. Referees: Alan Shortall, Gavin Reynolds. Crowd: 14,801.

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