The Penrith Panthers and Newcastle Knights have played out a full 90 minute, 14-all draw in what was no doubt a fitness test for both sides following the NRL's season restart this week. A thrilling game that had a bit of everything and showed us what we've all been missing these past two months.
Penrith jumped out of the blocks early in the game as they took full advantage of a shaken Newcastle lineup. Villiame Kikau burst over the line in the 18th minute on a Knights edge that was already missing Mitchell Pearce due to a head injury earlier in the match. Kikau and young-gun Stephen Crichton were making for a dynamic edge pair as they looked dangerous throughout the entire contest. Shortly after the first try, the Panthers scored again in the 22nd minute through Kurt Capewell, who was able to break the line and plant the ball over for his first try in Penrith colours. The former Shark also earned his team a possible 8-point try after Edrick Lee was found to have led with his knees in the tackle attempting to prevent Capewell from scoring. Crichton took full advantage and kicked both goals and blew the scoreline out to 14-0 in Penrith's favour.
The Knights were able to regather themselves in an incredible effort once down by 14. Missing Pearce, and only minutes later also losing Connor Watson to an ankle injury, the Knights also briefly were without Maroons rep Tim Glasby, who was sent for an HIA. Thankfully for Newcastle, Glasby was able to return to the game. It wasn't until the stroke of halftime that the Knights were able to crack the Penrith line, with a great show of strength from Jacob Saifiti being enough to get him over to plant the ball down. For just under the first 20 minutes of the second half, the game was very back and forth.
The scoreboard finally ticked over in the 58th minute when Bradman Best scored and incredibly put the Knights within four points - despite the adversity they were facing throughout the course of the game. Less than 10 minutes later, Best slid over for his second, levelling the scores at 14-all. Debutant Tex Hoy was impressive in his first outing, but was unable to convert from out wide to put the Knights in front with just over 10 minutes remaining. Newcastle would seemingly go into golden point extra time with the momentum on their side.
That period saw a lot of golden chances go begging. Young Panthers five-eighth Matt Burton, who had showed a calm head throughout only his second NRL performance, couldn't seem to buy a field goal. He missed to the left, right and was even denied by the post on one occasion. From the Knights, both Kurt Mann and Tex Hoy couldn't get their field goal attempts to find the mark either. Newcastle had a golden chance to score a try instead of a field goal to win the game, but a wayward pass from Bradman Best couldn't find Edrick Lee and ended up over the sideline instead. The extra period really consisted of an abundance of wasted game-winning chances, but was entertaining to watch nonetheless with both teams not willing to give an inch to their opponent.
In the end, a draw was probably the fairest result for this game. Both sides came into the game with some setbacks - with key playmakers Nathan Cleary and Kalyn Ponga both serving suspensions. The Knights were to endure even further adversity with the loss of both Pearce and Watson early in the contest, which caused an unexpected reshuffle of the team. The game saw some very exciting play from both sides, with some expansive plays.
Young talent was the main thing on show in this game and it was terrific to see. The likes of Stephen Crichton and Matt Burton were outstanding for the Panthers, really showing what they can do. The Novocastirans were not short on young talent themselves, with Hoy highlighting his ability in his NRL debut and Best playing well with some hard running as he also managed to score a double. In all, an was an outstanding game of rugby league.