The Panthers held off a brave 12-Knight team 38-20 thanks to a start from Mitch Barnett and superb performances from hat-trick hero Taylan May and Izack Tago.
The Panthers opened the scoring with a Taylan May try on a Jarome Luai sniper to lead 4-0.
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The Knights responded with a try from England winger Dominic Young to make it 6-4.
Knights enforcer Mitch Barnett was sent off for a forearm lift to allow the Panthers to block scores.
“Mitch Barnett, he has a problem here,” Warren Smith said.
“Chris Smith almost stopped in his tracks and Barnett is in all sorts of trouble.
“Right on the chin as well or the throat of Chris Smith, who had pretty much stopped completely. It’s disgusting. What an absolute brain blast, as cheap as it gets.
“As soon as he said forearm up, I said that’s it, he’s gone,” Steve Roach said.
“On a player without the ball. It was high, a forearm, clipped him without the ball. I really left him no choice, he had to leave. He will be dirty on himself.
The Panthers then took the lead with a second down in May to make it 12-6 at halftime.
The Panthers picked up where they left off in the second half with Izack Tago scoring to make it 18-6 with half an hour remaining.
However, the Knights refused to die wondering with Tex Hoy slipping to give Newcastle hope at 18-10.
However, back-to-back attempts on Tago and Crichton snuffed out any chance of a miraculous comeback for the Knights.
But late Bradman tries best and Enari Tuala set up a nervous finish for the Panthers.
However, late attempts from hero May and Charlie Staines sealed a 38-20 win.
Here are the main takeaways from the game.
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BARNETT’S BRAIN EXPLOSION BURNS BRAVE KNIGHTS
The Knights were one of the surprise packages of the season and if they hadn’t been reduced to 12 men, they could have beaten the reigning Premiers.
However, a brain outburst from Mitch Barnett made it too difficult for them to keep pace with the Panthers in the end.
Cooper Cronk and Benji Marshall blasted Barnett for robbing his side of the chance to go 3-0 and sit alone at the top of the table and believe his actions warranted a lengthy suspension.
“It’s ugly, it’s stupid,” Cronk said.
“I don’t know what Mitch Barnett was doing. Raise the elbow in this position and make contact with Chris Smith on the chin.
“Look at this. He passes and leaves. I agree with the decision.
“He’s going to be on the sidelines for a very, very long time.”
“It was a crazy moment,” Marshall said.
“Seriously, it’s useless. To pass the player, you can just move him out of the way. There was no need to raise your elbow.
“What he did was it potentially cost his team the game. They were in the game leading 6-4 before that moment. Then they were 12-6 with a man down and Barnett out. ground.
“Sending Barnett really put the Knights on the back foot.
“Defending with 12 men against a scorching Panthers team that has a great offensive game.”
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LUAI OUTPOINTS CLIFFORD IN IMPRESSIVE DUEL AS PANTHER ROOKIES SHINE
Jarome Luai got the chocolates in a thrilling duel with Knights five-eighth Jake Clifford, but it was two Panthers rookies who stole the show in Penrith’s win.
Luai stepped up again in the absence of Nathan Cleary on the first attempt of the match as he controlled the proceedings from start to finish.
“Luai is just threading the needle,” Steve Roach said after Taylan May’s first down.
“He took responsibility without Cleary. Luai steps up his kicking game. He bounced beautifully away from the Knights defenders.
However, Clifford kept his side in the game with a booming kicking game in the first half.
Cooper Cronk and Benji Marshall praised Clifford’s impact on his team.
“What held the Knights back in that first half was Clifford’s kicking game,” Cronk said.
“They had the wind behind them and he was hitting the ball really long and deep.”
“Jake Clifford’s kicking game was tremendous,” Marshall acknowledged.
However, it was rookies Izack Tago and Taylan May who scored two and three tries, respectively, that proved the difference against the Knights.
Replacing Paul Momirovski and Brian To’o on the Grand Finals-winning squad isn’t an easy task, but both players made a smooth transition into Year One.
“This from Tago was the moment of the game for me,” Marshall said after setting up May with a brilliant grubber.
“The skill and ability to see Gagai and get his eyes on then kick Taylan May to score his second in the corner.
“I loved the battle between Tago and Gagai,” Cronk said.
Both players finished with over 100 meters covered and five tries between them in superb performances.
GAGAI EARLY FAVORITE FOR THE PURCHASE OF THE YEAR
The signing of Origin star Dane Gagai was always going to make a huge difference for the Knights, but few could have predicted the impact he had so soon.
Despite being down to 12 men, the Knights pushed the Panthers all the way and Gagai was at the center of almost everything they did well.
Steve Roach hailed Gagai’s brilliance after setting up Newcastle’s first try with a brilliant pass.
“Hasn’t he been kind of a buy for the Knights,” Roach said of Gagai.
“Gagai returns to Newcastle.
“Since the scrum, Gagai has been getting on the outside of his man. He uses his experience. Watch him jump outside, then use the bumper and the film.
“Dominic Young would love to play outside of this guy.
“He jumps outside his man and does the movie in the back and Young does the rest.”
Jake Duke thinks Gagai is on track to be the best buy of 2022.
“What a start to the season for Dane Gagai,” Duke said.
“He averages 160 yards a game and he makes 16 tackles.
“It’s his second assist. One of the first contenders for the purchase of the year. Speaking to him during the week, he explained how important it was to come back to the club and make a better impression than when he was last here between 2012 and 2017, when the Knights picked up three spoons in wood.
“He said he wanted to give the fans more, show more and give back the faith and he certainly did.”
Benji Marshall agreed that Gagai has been one of the best buys of 2022 so far.
“Gagai was one of the rookies of the season,” Marshall said.
“His influence not only in defense, but we saw him in attack with his quick pass for Young.”
Penrith Panthers host Newcastle Knights in a blockbuster top-of-the-table clash at Carrington Park in Bathurst.
The Knights will be without star fullback Kalyn Ponga for the second game in a row with a knee injury, with Tex Hoy returning to the side.
The Panthers lost star forwards James Fisher-Harris and Liam Martin to injuries.
Spencer Leniu comes in front row for Fisher-Harris, with J’maine Hopgood joining the bench.
Chris Smith enters the back row for Martin in the No. 9 jersey, with Lindsay Smith 18th man.
With both teams unbeaten to start the season, the winner has the potential to sit alone at the top of the table with a win to kick off Super Saturday.
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