KNIGHTS coach Nathan Brown admitted his team were outmuscled and outsmarted on Friday night by a Penrith outfit he expects to progress deep into the play-offs.
The injury-hit Panthers, minus big names Nathan Cleary (knee), Josh Mansour (cheek), Waqa Blake (ankle), Sam McKendry (knee), Dylan Edwards (shoulder) and Moses Leota (pectoral), won 29-18 at McDonald Jones Stadium to climb to second on the ladder.
Brown felt his players put in enough effort to win, but he was left ruing some costly moments of ill-discipline, in particular a penalty in possession that robbed Newcastle of a try.
He also felt the Knights struggled to cope with the sheer size of Penrith’s forwards and their aggressive line speed.
“The team that beat us tonight, I think Penrith will be playing very late in September if they can have a bit of luck with injury,” Brown said.
“I think they’ll be going a long way into the back end of the year, so we never got beaten by dummies.
“But it’s the way with which we lost that disappoints me. Our younger players … they’ve got to understand what they’re doing to the team when they do those poor acts of discipline.”
In particular, Brown was shaking his head at a 30th-minute brain snap by five-eighth Connor Watson that proved a turning point.
Watson scored Newcastle’s opening try to get them back in the game after the Panthers raced to a 12-0 lead, but 10 minutes later he was penalised for impeding Penrith defender Tyrone Phillips, just when Daniel Saifiti appeared to have crashed over the line.
Three minutes later, Watson threw a wayward pass that was intercepted by Penrith five-eighth Tyrone Peachey, who broke clear and sent fullback Dallin Watene-Zalezniak over to score.
A possible 12-all scoreline instead became 18-6 to the visitors at half-time.
The Knights rallied after the interval, and when halfback Brock Lamb created a try for fullback Kalyn Ponga in the 54th minute, it was a six-point ball game.
But then Panthers playmaker James Maloney kicked a field goal, a penalty and set up a try for Corey Harawira-Naera to leave the Knights facing an insurmountable task. “If Jimmy Maloney was playing for us, we probably would have won,” Brown said.
Brown said his players struggled against Penrith’s “rushing line”, and he suggested referee Gavin Reynolds could expect “some negative feedback” for not policing the 10 metres more strictly.
He said the Panthers are a “big, big side” and, given the size difference, his players deserved some credit, but cruelled themselves with untimely errors and penalties.
“I was very confident with the effort we were putting in tonight, we would have won,” Brown said.
“Whereas last week [a 36-18 loss to South Sydney] we didn’t perform well enough.”
Penrith coach Anthony Griffin was satisfied with his team’s seventh win in 10 games this season, and fifth in a row against Newcastle.
“It’s a hard place to come and win, Newcastle,” Griffin said.
“There’s a lot of people who’ve come up here and haven’t been able to win.
“They’re a really good side. They’re improving.
“They’ve got a lot of strike in them with the young halves and Ponga.
“To be able to come up here tonight and get the job done, it’s just important that we did that.”
For the Knights, it was their second successive defeat on home soil, and left them with five wins and five losses.
The crowd of 14,801, the smallest in four home games at McDonald Jones Stadium this season, was not surprising, given the arctic wind and 6pm kick-off.
Inspired by prop Trent Merrin, who played just five days after surgery to repair a compound dislocation of a finger, the Panthers bounced back from last Friday’s loss to North Queensland in Bathurst.
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