The Penrith Panthers have progressed to the SG Ball decider after defeating Newcastle Knights 25 - 6 in a tiring battle at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on Saturday.
The Panthers had fire in the belly following a 32-18 loss to the Knights in the final round of the regular season.
Isaiya Katoa and Keagan Russell-Smith led from the front, setting up every Panthers try with Russell-Smith nailing all four conversions from across the park.
After fifteen minutes of play, Panthers winger Jesse McLean gifted his side their first real attacking opportunity. Chasing down a kick on the sixth tackle, McLean picked up his opposing winger Tyler Moodie and dragged him into touch.
Some crisp passing from hooker Ryley Smith and halfback Katoa put second-rower Aston Warwick into a sizeable gap as he opened the scoring.
Russell-Smith slotted the conversion to give the Panthers a six-point head start
As the Knights looked to strike on the left edge, a joint effort from Jimmy Donnelly and Samuel Lane denied their efforts, pushing Newcastle winger Luke Pietzner into touch.
A spiralling kick from halfback Katoa proved too difficult for Newcastle, giving the Panthers another attacking opportunity within ten metres of the line.
Russell-Smith placed a chip kick behind the Knights defence which was pounced on by Angelis Hotere-Papalii. Russell-Smith made no mistake with the conversion, taking the Panthers lead to 12.
The Knights needed points before the break and it wash Mitch Henderson who did the honours. The five-eighth muscled his way through two Panthers to put the ball down on the line.
Liam Sutton’s conversion attempt struck the left upright before going over the black dot, reducing the deficit to six as the siren sounded in the background.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 12 - KNIGHTS 6
Three minutes into the second half, Knights interchange forward Taj Blackman was sent to the sin-bin.
Katoa took on the defensive line before he flicked an inside ball to Russell-Smith who leaped over to score. The Panthers five-eighth added the extra two points to restore the 12-point lead.
Absorbing an attacking raid it was Katoa who once again troubled the Knights back three with a towering bomb splitting the Knights in goal. Second-rower Harrison Hassett dived on the loose ball to score the fourth try for Penrith. Russell-Smith made no mistake with the conversion, all but ending the Knights’ chances with 12 minutes to play.
Katoa finished off the Knights with a perfectly taken field-goal to send the Panthers into the decider with a 19-point victory.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 25 - KNIGHTS 6
The Penrith Panthers will face the Sydney Roosters in the SG Ball Grand Final at CommBank Stadium on Saturday 30 April at 2:30pm.