Panthers winger Malakai Watene-Zelezniak bagged a hat-trick as the Panthers knocked off Newcastle Knights 44-6 in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW at Pepper Stadium on Saturday.
Jamie Soward took the field with Steve Georgallis' side for the second time this season to combine lethally with Zach Dockar-Clay in the halves. The formidable Panthers mustered defensive grit at key moments to claim their fourth consecutive win.
The Panthers opened the scoring as the ever-elusive Will Smith beat a handful of defenders and dived over in the 9th minute. Soward slotted the conversion and propelled Penrith to a 6 – 0 lead.
The 18th minute saw Penrith execute a beautiful set piece down the right flank. Dockar-Clay set up Dylan Edwards to offload to Malakai Watene-Zelezniak to crash over. The Panthers extended their lead to 12 – 0 courtesy of another successful Soward conversion.
Penrith continued to dominate possession with strong forward runs. Gifted with a penalty 20 metres out, Soward started a play that saw Watene-Zelezniak cross again in the 27th minute. With Soward’s conversion waved away, the home side had a 16 – 0 lead.
A shoulder charge from Pauli Pauli in the 33rd minute dropped Penrith's Tyrone May in an awkward clash and he was forced out of the game with a calf injury.
Ryan Walker unexpectedly drew Panthers defenders out of position to score a much needed in the 35th minute. Fullback Bryce Donovan put the ball through the posts and Newcastle hit the sheds at halftime behind by 10 points.
HALFTIME - PANTHERS 16-6
The Panthers opened the second stanza with Harawira-Naera try in the 45th minute. Soward slotted the conversion to extend Penrith's lead to a 22 – 6.
Just when the Knights looked like scoring again, halfback Jack Kelly threw an intercept pass for Panthers winger Josh Hall to snaffle. Hall made no hesitation in sprinting 90 metres to touch down in the 51st minute. Soward's accurate boot put Penrith comfortably ahead 28 – 6.
It was a matter of minutes before Soward nailed a 40/20 to gift his side with a set 10 metres out. Then backing up his own grubber, Soward snatched up a spilled ball to cross in the 54th minute. The halfback converted his own try to extend the Panthers lead to 34 – 6.
The Knights worked hard to win consecutive sets deep inside Panthers territory but struggled to break down Penrith's defensive grit.
Penrith fought hard into the closing minutes, and Watene-Zelezniak was rewarded with a third try in the 76th minute. Soward’s conversion was waved away and the Panthers propelled ahead 38 – 6.
Edwards showed no mercy as he found Paea Pua in the 79th minute and the prop crashed over. Soward slotted his final conversion to secure a confident 44 – 6 win over the visitors.
FULLTIME - PANTHERS 44-6