The Panthers Harold Matthews Cup season has come to a close after suffering a tense 20-6 loss to Newcastle in the Preliminary Final at St Marys Leagues Stadium.
The Panthers stormed into Saturday’s game off the back of five-straight wins, including a 44-6 thumping of the third-placed Sea Eagles last week.
And they weren’t without opportunities against the Knights but execution was lacking at times as their push towards the premiership fell short.
The Knights were dealt a cruel blow early in the match, losing five-eighth Taj Blackman to injury.
But it didn’t faze them as they went over for the first try of the afternoon. A sweeping play to the right saw winger Charlie Thompson slice over.
Back-to-back penalties gifted Penrith prime field position and a charging Ryley Smith looked to take full advantage, powering over defenders before eventually losing possession over the line.
After struggling to complete sets early, momentum swung back in Newcastle’s favour when a Travis Petersen line break brought them inside Penrith’s red zone.
And they soon extended their lead to 10, with Lachlan Crouch spinning over next to the posts.
They appeared to have scored in the ensuing set off the restart, but fortunately for the Panthers the referee ruled that Petersen dropped the ball over the line.
Newcastle continued to threaten though, quick play-the-balls seeing the march upfield as they looked to push further ahead.
They almost did, a short ball seeing Max Bradbury surge towards the line, only denied by a crunching tackle from interchange forward John Sagaga.
The try-saving effort proved a turning point as Penrith went on to score in the next set, reducing the deficit to four.
Jake Hay did well to thread the needle close to the line, his deft grubber sitting up for a determined Jecii Pritchard who never gave up the chase.
Hay then nailed the sideline conversion.
Strong charges from both Sagaga and Smith quickly brought the Panthers upfield before a well-weighted kick from Jack Cole trapped Newcastle in-goal.
And while they couldn’t crack them, it ensured that Penrith had all the running heading into the break.
HALF-TIME: Panthers 6 Knights 10
Newcastle had the first genuine try-scoring opportunity of the second half when Thompson went over untouched out wide in the 34th minute. But the final pass was ruled forward.
They didn’t take long to rectify that error though, Jacob Davis burrowing over next to the posts to extend their buffer back out to 10.
The speed of the play-the-ball continued to trouble the Panthers in defence as Newcastle forced a goal-line dropout to heap on more pressure.
And with 15 minutes left they almost sealed the game, Fletcher Myers coughing it up as he crashed over to score what would have been a certain try.
After safely diffusing a dangerous bomb, fullback Caleb Coroneos then danced past Newcastle defenders in what was a brilliant kick return that brought Penrith into attacking territory. But as they created numbers on the left edge the ball was shifted right, unable to capitalise on a valuable opportunity.
A late try to Newcastle's Thompson put the result beyond doubt.
FULL-TIME: Panthers 6 Knights 20