The Newcastle Knights were defeated 30-8 by the Penrith Panthers in their opening match of the 2014 season at Sportingbet Stadium on Saturday.
In a brutal round one affair, the Knights' lost three key players to injury; two before half time and the third in the second half.
Fullback Darius Boyd suffered a hamstring injury in the first half and didn't return for the remainder of the match, while skipper Kurt Gidley also left the field in the first stanza with concussion after copping a heavy hit.
Halfback Tyrone Roberts was another casualty in the second half with concussion. Roberts tried to stop Panthers lock Adam Docker from scoring in the 64th minute, but came off second best and was also forced to watch the rest of the game from the sidelines.
With four of the Club's best players on the bench, if you include injured five-eighth Jarrod Mullen (hamstring), the Knights' struggled for cohesion in attack.
While the final scoreline didn't look pretty, you can't fault Newcastle's effort under extremely difficult circumstances.
Penrith made a number of positional changes before kick-off, with centre Jamal Idris (hamstring) and prop Tim Grant (calf) ruled out through injury.
Dubbo junior Isaah Yeo replaced Idris in the centres, while Nigel Plum was elevated from the bench to play prop in Grant’s absence.
Newcastle entered the match with an unchanged line-up.
Newcastle had the first chance to score after five minutes, but winger James McManus couldn’t hold onto the ball.
Penrith received their first attacking opportunity minutes later, with five-eighth Jamie Soward and fullback Matt Moylan finding open space.
The Knights’ scrambling defence held on though to force a Panthers’ mistake.
Fullback Darius Boyd clutched at his hamstring in a tackle at around the 10th minute mark.
Boyd was forced to leave the field minutes later due to his hamstring and didn’t return for the remainder of the match.
In a reshuffle, skipper Kurt Gidley went back to fullback, while replacement Travis Waddell moved to hooker.
Penrith looked to have opened the scoring in the 15th minute via new halfback Peter Wallace, but it was ruled no try after forward Lewis Brown grabbed Kurt Gidley by the jumper.
The Panthers were starting to take control and this was aided in the 20th minute when Gidley dropped a kick 10 metres out from his own line.
Penrith looked certain to score via winger Josh Mansour, but Uate came up with a brilliant try saving tackle to deny the four pointer.
The Panthers’ dominated possession for most of the first half, but were unable to convert mostly due to the Knights’ strong on line defence.
This resilience inspired Newcastle to remain positive and they opened the scoring in the 31st minute via back-rower Beau Scott.
Scott barged over from a perfect ball from five-eighth Michael Dobson. Gidley added the extras and the Knights’ lead 6-0 with seven left in the first half.
Gidley, who lost the ball 15 metres from his line due to a head knock, came off the field under the new concussion rule, forcing Dane Gagai to fullback and Alex McKinnon to the centres.
With Gidley off the field, the Panthers levelled the scores at 6-all on the cusp of halftime via a try to forward Elijah Taylor.
Taylor pounced on a Uate mistake to cross, while Soward added the extras.
Newcastle received a penalty on the stroke of halftime from 45 metres out and Roberts converted to give the Knights a slender 8-6 lead at the break.
Gidley didn't return for the second half, forcing McKinnon to remain in the centres and Gagai at fullback.
Penrith opened the scoring with a powerful effort from centre Josh Mansour, who dragged four defenders over the line to score.
Wallace converted to give the Panthers a 12-8 lead with 34 minutes remaining. Penrith five-eighth Jamie Soward kicked a 40/20 in the following set, which enabled winger Mansour to grab his second try with a brilliant aerobatic effort.
Wallace converted from the sideline and the Panthers jumped out to a comfortable 18-8 advantage. Newcastle were missing Gidley and Boyd, but they refused to give up and kept toiling away.
Halfback Tyrone Roberts and new fullback Gagai combined to force a line dropout from the Panthers, but the Knights were unable to convert due to a forward pass.
Penrith extended their lead in the 63rd minute when lock Adam Docker scored from close range. Roberts tried his best to stop Docker from close range, but the pair clashed heads in the process and the halfback was forced from the field.
Wallace converted the try from in front to give the Panthers a 24-8 lead with 16 minutes remaining.
Penrith added another four pointer in the 76th minute, with replacement forward Jeremy Latimore diving on a loose ball in the Knights' in goal to score.
Wallace converted and Penrith were cruising at 30-8 with just three minutes remaining, which maintained the full-time siren.
NRL Full Time
Newcastle Knights 8 (T: Scott, G: Gidley 1/1, P: Roberts 1/1)
Penrith Panthers 30 (T: Mansour 2, Taylor, Docker, Latimore, G: Soward 1/1, Wallace 4/4)