Billy Burns bagged three tries as the ISP Panthers finished strongly to defeat Newcastle Knights 36-26 at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.
Newcastle took a 26-24 lead with only nine minutes left in the game before late tries to Burns and Maika Sivo secured victory for the Panthers.
The Panthers had the better field position to start the match however it was the Knights, through Zac Hosking, who opened the scoring. The backrower pounced on a Jack Cogger grubber after nine minutes of play and Brock Lamb added the extras to give Newcastle a 6-0 lead.
The Knights extended their lead four minutes later after a great exchange of passes in the middle third of the field put Brodie Jones over to score. Lamb's conversion gave Newcastle a 12-0 lead.
The Panthers needed to be next to score and Corey Waddell was the man to answer the call. A quick play-the-ball gave Waddell the chance to dummy and step his way through the retreating defensive line. Adam Keighran's conversion reduced the deficit to six points.
Sivo denied the Knights a certain try with ten minutes to go in the half and then put Burns over for his first of the afternoon with four minutes to play before the break. The winger got his hands on the ball and ran in-field before finding a late offload for Burns. Keighran's conversion ensured the scores were level at half-time.
HALF-TIME: Panthers 12 - 12 Knights
Tyrone May and Keighran combined early in the second half to send Burns over in the 45th minute. Keighran's simple conversion gave the Panthers the lead for the first time in the game.
Eight minutes later Sivo picked up a loose ball following a Knights chip kick and scooted up-field before offloading to hooker Wayde Egan. Egan fired a long ball out to Ratu Tuisese who outpaced the Knights defence to finish a 90-metre movement. Keighran helped himself to another easy conversion to extend the lead to 24-12.
The Knights opted for a short kick-off and won the aerial contest before Lamb put in a clever grubber which found Cogger to plant the ball down under the posts. Lamb's conversion reduced Panthers lead to six points.
Scores were suddenly level with 20 minutes remaining as Patrick Mata-Utia ran a smart line and beat the attempted tackle of Burns on a 20-metre dash to the line, and Lamb converted off the post.
A Lamb penalty goal then gave the Knights a 26-24 lead with nine minutes to play.
Four minutes later Burns took the line on with purpose and beat a number of defenders to seal his hat-trick. Keighran added the two to give the Panthers a four-point lead.
The result was sealed in style as a swift catch and pass from Caleb Aekins gave Sivo some room to move and he beat three defenders to score. Keighran slotted the conversion from out wide to finish the game with six conversions from six attempts.
FULL-TIME: Panthers 36 – 26 Knights