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The Knights have booked themselves a date for next Saturday night after thrashing the Panthers 35-0 in Newcastle this afternoon in front of a 22,000-plus capacity crowd.
For the first time since the retirement of Andrew Johns, the Knights will play in the finals series and quite deservedly.
The match started off with high intensity as both sides looked to book themselves a date with either the Bulldogs or the Titans next Saturday night.
It took just 6 minutes for the scoreboard to start ticking over as Adam MacDougall made a break down field after going around Michael Jennings and found Kurt Gidley in support for the first of his two tries. Gidley converted and the Knights went into defensive mode.
The Panthers tried to make the most of their early opportunities but all too oftenly they lost control of the ball or made poor decisions with their kicking game. The Knights absorbed all of this pressure and were duly rewarded up the other end, this time Mullen ran through a gap the size of the coast line to double the home team's score and lead.
The rest of the first-half was tight and scrappy, both sides seemed nervous and showed their inexperience. Trent Waterhouse tried to bring some composure into his side and worked hard but duly made many errors.
To close off the first-half, the Knights showed their big game aspirations and Scott Dureau who had a magnificent match knocked over an ugly field goal to increase his team's lead to 13 points at the break.
The second-half began terribly for the Panthers as the Knights increased their lead to 19 after just two minutes. Again an error let the Panthers down in attack close to the Knights line and Gidley was put away into some space to show Michael Gordon a clean pair of heels.
Isaac De Gois then had Newcastle supporters with hearts in their mouths after limping off the field but the concern for the side barely lasted as MacDougall once again took advantage of his experience against a youthful Penrith backline to score. Newcastle's lead extended to 23-0 and it looked as though Penrith's season was well and truly over.
With just under 30 minutes to go, the Knights could have lost focus and let the Panthers in but their resolve strengthened.
Matt Hilder then showed that he was going to make a play for the injured De Gois as he dived over from dummy-half to increase the lead to 29 with under 15 minutes to play.
With two minutes to play Mullen came up with a trademark move. Mullen caught the ball wide and chipped for Cooper Vuna to chase. The bounce was kind and Vuna found Paterson in support to find Vuna once more in the corner. Gidley converted and saluted the Newcastle home crowd for the last time in 2009. 35-0 the final score.
Newcastle Knights 35 def Penrith Panthers 0
Round 26 - Sunday September 6th, 2009 03:00pm Venue: EnergyAustralia Stadium, Newcastle Referee: Ben Cummins & Gavin Badger
Sideline Officials: Jeff Younis & David Abood
Video Referee: Sean Hampstead Crowd: 22,152 Halftime: Newcastle Knights 13 Penrith Panthers 0
LeagueUnlimited.com Live Commentary Welcome to Energy Australia Stadium for a match which will shape this 2009 Finals series. Whoever wins today will play again next weekend, we've already said goodbye to the Rabbitohs, Sharks, Warriors and Tigers for 2009. Who will join them in Mad Monday tomorrow morning? We'll bring you all the action in just under a quarter of an hour.
We've got a few late changes for the two sides. Let's start with the home side. McDonnell comes in on the wing for Uate and Zeb Taia is out, he'll be replaced by Paterson in the 18 jumper. For the Panthers, Graham will come onto the bench and swap with Blair who'll start at five-eighth. Cooper will come into the centres as the backline is re-shuffled for Sammut who's missing from fullback; his spot will be filled by Gordon and Tighe will move one more out wide onto the wing.
Talk about the Knights v Panthers Round 26 clash as it happens - forum discussion - click here!
KNIGHTS: 1. Kurt Gidley (c) 19. Shannon McDonnell 3. Junior Sau 4. Adam MacDougall 5. Cooper Vuna 6. Scott Dureau 7. Jarrod Mullen 8. Mark Taufua 9. Isaac DeGois 10. Chris Houston 11. Steve Simpson 18. Cory Paterson 13. Matt Hilder Interchange: 14. Wes Naiqama 15. Marvin Karawana 16. Richie Fa