Penrith Panthers' six-game winning streak has come to an end with the new-look NSW Cup team suffering a 36-26 loss to the Newcastle Knights at Maitland Sports Ground.
With the State of Origin period looming, Panthers rested seven players for the clash on Sunday afternoon.
Doubles to Mavrik Geyer and Christian Crichton weren’t enough for the Panthers, who battled to stay in the game after the Knights piled on three tries in 10 minutes while Preston Riki sat in the sin-bin.
Crichton was first to score for Penrith, crossing the line in the third minute after receiving a rainbow pass from fill-in five-eighth Jack Cole, who recognised he was unmarked on the wing. Niwhai Puru was quick to extend the visitor’s lead, nailing the conversion from touch.
The Knights looked to level the scores minutes later, after a pass was intercepted by second-rower Jirah Momoisea. A valiant defensive effort from Penrith halted Momoisea’s run, with the pressure forcing Newcastle to send the ball into touch later in the set.
Newcastle looked almost certain to score through David Armstrong two minutes later, but the fullback coughed up possession on the line, handing the ball back to Penrith.
In the 18th minute Ben Talty barrelled through the Panthers strong defensive line, charging at full-force to claim a four-pointer. Tex Hoy sealed the attacking effort with a conversion to level the scores.
Four minutes later, Armstrong broke the Penrith line, racing down-field to find winger Nicholas O’Meley in support who put the home side ahead on the scoreboard. Hoy added the extras to give Newcastle a six-point lead.
A chip kick from Jack Johns was gathered by Brayden Musgrove in-goal, with the centre grounding the ball unmarked to notch up a 10-point advantage.
Crichton bagged a double in the 36th minute in play that replicated his first try. A quick pass from centre Logan Cohen found him unmarked on the right wing again, bringing the Panthers back into the game but Puru’s conversion attempt bounced off the upright.
A bit of show-time from Penrith captain Soni Luke helped the visitors score again, with the hooker producing a chip-and-chase before putting Mavrik Geyer over under the posts. This time Puru nailed the conversion after the siren to lock up the scores at 16-apiece.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 16 – KNIGHTS 16
Using their first-half momentum, the Panthers found a way through two minutes into the second half. Geyer charged down a kick, gathered possession of the ball and racing away untouched to claim a double. Puru made no mistake with the conversion, kicking Penrith to a six-point lead.
Needing a response, the Knights repeatedly tested the Panthers left edge defence, eventually finding a gap big enough for Luke Huke to dive through off dummy-half. Hoy nailed the conversion to level the scores once again.
Ill-discipline from Panthers second-rower Preston Riki saw him claim a stint in the sin-bin, giving the Knights a one-man advantage.
Riki’s absence gave Newcastle the chance to rein in three tries in 10 minutes, through Honeti Tuha, Armstrong and Johns. Hoy was only able to convert one of the four-pointers, but the effort to put the home side 14-point in front.
A last minute try to Thomas Jenkins wasn’t enough to steal the win from the Knights, who proved too good with a home-crowd advantage.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 26 – KNIGHTS 36