Defensive fortitude propels Panthers to victory

The Panthers defended their way to a first win of 2019, prevailing 16-14 against Newcastle Knights at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.

In a game exempt of much attacking flair, the Panthers’ forwards stood up to deliver the points as James Fisher-Harris, Frank Winterstein, Isaah Yeo all crossed the stripe.

The persistent Knights were alive right up until the closing stages of play, but Penrith’s resilient defence, particularly from James Maloney, proved the difference.

The Panthers suffered a setback in the 3rd minute as Isaah Yeo was forced off with a head injury for the second-consecutive week. He passed his HIA and returned later in the match but missed most of the first half.

Connor Watson slipped through the Panthers’ weakened right edge shortly after Yeo was taken off, but an obstruction by Lachlan Fitzgibbon let Penrith off the hook.

The Knights were still first on the scoreboard, as Kalyn Ponga kicked a penalty goal in the 10th minute.

A decision to not take the two and equalise in the 18th minute paid dividends for the Panthers, as they scored the first try shortly after. James Fisher-Harris stormed onto Nathan Cleary’s deceptive inside ball to score, putting the Panthers ahead 4-2.

The Panthers attacked Newcastle’s left side again in the 24th minute, but Edrick Lee rushed out of the line to force a mistake from Dean Whare.

Lee was rewarded for his defensive efforts, scoring off Ponga’s sizzling cut-out pass in the 28th minute. Ponga added the conversion to give the Knights an 8-4 advantage.

Malakai Watene-Zelezniak’s show of desperation restored the Panthers’ lead in the 34th minute. The winger terrifically batted back Cleary’s deep grubber, and Frank Winterstein was on the spot to mark his club debut with a try. Cleary converted, making it 10-8.

Ponga looked set to level the scores as he lined up a penalty goal on the stroke of halftime, but his attempt was waved away.

HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 10 – KNIGHTS 8

The Panthers came flying out of the blocks in the second half, as James Maloney turned it in for Yeo, playing at lock, to barge over in the 44th minute. Cleary’s conversion stretched the Panthers’ lead to 16-8.

Reagan Campbell-Gillard saved what would have been a certain try to Ponga in the 49th minute, chasing down Mitchell Pearce’s kick to defuse the situation.

The Panthers seemingly extended their lead in the 56th minute when Waqa Blake pounced on Cleary’s clever kick, but the centre was unable to ground the football cleanly.

Shortly after laying a bone-rattling shot on Watson, James Maloney stepped up in defence again in the 68th minute, getting underneath Edrick Lee in a crucial try-saver.

The Panthers continued to bravely defend their goal-line, but Mitch Barnett finally cracked them open in the 73rd minute. Ponga’s conversion cut the Panthers’ lead down to two points, setting up a grandstand finish.

The Knights would fall short of a comeback however, as the Panthers held on for a hard-fought victory.

FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 16 – KNIGHTS 14