The Panthers have ended their slate of 2018 home games with a shocker as poor ball-handling, discipline and finishing cost them a chance to pull equal with the competition leaders and sets them up for a possible tumble down the ladder should other results go against them this weekend.
With an ugly contest ending 20-12 in favour of the traveling Knights, here’s five things we learned from the 80 minutes at Panthers Stadium.
1. Penrith have bigger issues than Anthony Griffin
Having sacked Anthony Griffin a fortnight ago, Penrith fans will have hoped their lacklustre performances were finished but a scrappy comeback win last week failed to mask the deeper issues they face which were brutally exposed in Saturday afternoon’s 20-12 loss at home to the Knights.
Penrith’s ball-handling was atrocious across the full 80 minutes, ensuring they were unable to build any stretches of pressure or ask serious questions of a Newcastle side still a little short on top-shelf talent but packing plenty of grit and heart.
Newcastle did enough to get the job done, but will be thankful Penrith’s knack for epic late comebacks deserted them this time around.
Penrith were their own worst enemies once again and their errors, penalties and lack of cohesion in attack will concern even the most ardent Penrith fan as they embark on a two-game road trip before the finals get underway.
2. Is there nothing Ponga can’t do?
Ok, I know the over-the-top praise Kalyn Ponga gets each week from the commentary team can get a little grating and he probably gets a bit more credit than he deserves here and there, but a late switch to the halves to partner Mitchell Pearce paid off for Ponga who was amongst the visitor’s best in a vital win.
Whether or not Ponga’s long-term future lies in the halves or back at fullback remains to be seen and Nathan Brown did confirm to Fox Sports that right now that decision probably rests with the man himself, but it will be interesting and exciting for the average footy fan to see how the next few phases of his career pan out.
3. Late fight nothing more than frustration
Unfortunately for the big crowd who turned out on the day, the Penrith players appeared to put more effort into their late-game fisticuffs with Newcastle than they did across the rest of a pretty tepid contest.
As good as he can be, big Billy Kikau looked more interested in trying to dominate the donnybrook with his size and physicality than he did in running hard and attacking Newcastle’s fringe defence and he certainly wasn’t alone there as many of Penrith’s young stars looked flat at best.
Silly mistakes and plenty of penalties (15 errors and 10 penalties conceded) set the tone for a scrappy, disinterested performance from Penrith which not only cost them a chance to move level with the best sides in the competition, but may see them shuffle out of the top four by the end of the weekend.
Penrith’s hierarchy will head into the rest of the round eagerly watching results elsewhere when they could have made themselves far more comfortable with a routine win on home soil, where they have been strong in 2018.
4. Browny’s boys control the kicking game perfectly
Full credit to Mitchell Pearce for his control of the kicking game in what were fairly tricky conditions given the gale force wind at Panthers Stadium on Saturday night.
Pearce barely put a foot wrong as he constantly put Penrith under pressure with a strong array of long and short kicks and much of the positive result can be drawn back to his efforts with the boot this afternoon.
Newcastle’s other kicking options were decent when called upon, but Pearce stood out and displayed the veteran control he was famous for through his time as a Premiership-winner at the Roosters and it was a joy to watch for Newcastle fans and the neutral viewer alike.
5. Hooker troubles
Sione Katoa may well have a very bright future in the game and I’m sure he’ll recover from his recent downturn in form, but it was very clear to see how much quicker Penrith got through the middle of the ruck when the young dummy-half made way for Wayde Egan in the second-half.
Katoa has not had a good 5-6 weeks and while you certainly can’t dump this loss squarely on his shoulders, especially given the poor performances of so many of his teammates, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Egan is favoured in the starting hooker role over the next couple of weeks as new coach Cameron Ciraldo tries to tweak things and get Penrith back on track.
Egan looks a lot faster out of dummy-half but it is his crisp passing service, right out in front of on-running support players that looked more than a cut above Katoa on Saturday afternoon.
One last thing…
If anyone can tell me how Justin Hodges managed to get himself a start in the broadcasting industry and hold onto commentary duties for as long as he has, I’d love to hear from you!
What did you learn from Newcastle's 20-12 win over Penrith at Panthers Stadium? Let us know in the comments below.