Slippery hands and poor execution has seen the Penrith Panthers NSW Cup side’s season end with a disappointing 44-12 defeat to the Newcastle Knights.
After going within one win of the minor premiership, the Panthers suffered back-to-back defeats in the finals series as their best form eluded them when they needed it most.
At Kogarah Oval on Sunday afternoon, Penrith notched up an error count in double figures and after a tight first half, the floodgates opened in the second stanza as the Knights ran away with the game.
Coach Garth Brennan welcomed back some big names with Will Smith joining Daniel Foster in the halves, while Tupou Sopoaga was named in the back row in place of the injured Chris Smith. Josh Tangitau again got his chance at hooker after Sione Katoa instead played for the Panthers NYC team.
It was an particularly messy opening to the match with Penrith failing to complete a set in the opening seven minutes, despite some promising field position.
They were made to pay in the 11th minute as a fifth-tackle kick from Newcastle playmaker Carlos Tuimavave was pulled in by Ken Tofilau on the fly. George Ndaira knocked the conversion over to make it 6-0.
Penrith hit back almost immediately as some fleet-footed blindside play involving Tangitau and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak paid dividends as Kieran Moss streaked away to score. Smith nailed the conversion attempt to level the scores in the 16th minute.
In the 20th minute, on the back of repeat sets, Tangitau burrowed his way over from dummy half but was held up by some desperate Knights defence.
As the first half wore on, both sides were guilty of throwing away possession, with the Panthers prone to dropping the ball and the Knights tossing forward passes at key moments.
Despite their slippery hands, Penrith were attempting to muscle up in defence. Talented Knights fullback Jake Mamo was making some incisive runs and Penrith were forced to repel a number of dangerous attacks on their own line.
However with four minutes left until the break, another deft chip from Tuimavave earned Newcastle a repeat set and they took full advantage. Some quick hands and missed tackles finally opened up enough space for Mamo to slip around the last defender and score in the left corner. Ndaira’s attempted conversion was waved away but the Knights led 10-6 after a scrappy opening period.
HALFTIME – Newcastle 10-6
The Knights extended their lead four minutes after the break as Ndaira swerved his way through the line and offloaded on the inside for Mamo to score his second try. With the conversion successful, the scoreboard read 16-6.
It got even worse for Penrith moments later as another pinpoint fifth-tackle kick from Tuimavave was snatched out of the arms of Watene-Zelezniak by Knights winger Kerrod Holland to score. Despite the conversion being waved away, Newcastle led 20-6 in the 50th minute.
And the procession continued as Sopoaga went in search of space on the right edge in the 53rd minute. He instead tossed the ball straight to Knights winger Honeti Tuha to sprint 50 metres for the try.
The next one was right from the top shelf as some slick hands saw Mamo break clear before he chipped over the approaching fullback. Holland was in the right place at exactly the right time to grab the bouncing ball and plant it down beneath the posts. Ndaira’s conversion made the score 30-6 in the 56th minute.
With 16 minutes left in the contest, Newcastle were in again as forward Lachlan Fitzgibbon cut back on a scything run and did just enough to reach out and score.
Mamo again left the Panthers defence red-faced on a jinking run in the 72nd minute. Brushing off multiple would-be tacklers, the fullback danced his way over the tryline. Another successful conversion pushed the score out to 42-6.
Closing out the game in cruise control, the Knights iced the dominant performance with a 78th minute penalty.
However it was the Panthers who would have the final say, with a short kick-off gathered by Ben Murdoch-Masila, who broke clear before offloading for Watene-Zelezniak to score. Smith kicked the conversion as Penrith's season came to an end.
FULLTIME - Newcastle 44-12