NEWCASTLE produced their most resilient display under the coaching of Nathan Brown – and officially ended their three-year tenure as wooden spooners – with a gutsy 20-12 victory against Penrith at Panthers Stadium on Sunday.
Under siege for much of the second half, the Knights repeatedly repelled Penrith to record their ninth win of the season – lifting them six points clear of the competition cellar dwellers, with only two rounds remaining.
The two tries they conceded came from an unfortunate fumble from fullback Nick Meaney on a kick-return, and a minute from full-time, when both teams had been reduced to 11 men after referee Ben Cummins dispatched four players to the sin-bin for punching.
Asked after the game if it was the best defensive performance of his 70 games as Newcastle’s coach, Brown replied: “I would've thought so, just based on the sheer power and athleticism of the players we played.
“They had their fair share of goes at us too. There was no lack or shortage of ball for them.
Sport: The Newcastle Knights
“From that point of view, the fact we could keep turning them away and hold them out, until that last little bit when there was 11 on the field, I would have to agree with that.”
It was a timely effort given that the Knights went into round 23 having conceded more points than any other team in the NRL – an unwanted statistic they have now handed over to Manly.
Running with a stiff wind at their backs, the Knights were worthy 14-6 leaders at half-time. Newcastle scored three tries to one in a stop-start first half against an error-plagued Penrith side.
They drew first blood in the 12th minute when lock Aidan Guerra speared between two defenders to score.
Six minutes later, they claimed their second try when Kalyn Ponga, playing five-eighth for the first time in his NRL career, grubber kicked and centre Cory Denniss won the race to ground the ball.
Penrith hit back with a fortuitous Tyrone May try in the 25th minute, when Meaney lost the ball on a kick-return, after a Cory Harawira-Naera tackle.
Newcastle replied almost immediately when Meaney threw a short ball for Sione Mata'utia to crash over for his eighth try of the season.
When winger Ken Sio defied gravity in the 69th minute to notch his 10th try of the year, and then converted from the sideline, Newcastle led by 14 points and proceeded to finish the job.