Inspired by a hat-trick to fullback Jake Mamo, the Newcastle Knights' NYC side kicked-off their 2014 campaign in style with a 34-22 win against the reigning Under 20s premiers the Penrith Panthers at Sportingbet Stadium on Saturday.
Returning to the Holden Cup ranks after impressing in pre-season training with the Club's NRL squad this summer, Mamo showed his class in attack and defence.
The Gosford-born flyer was well supported by Knights' new recruit Jaelen Feeney, who starred at halfback with his composure and strong kicking game.
Feeney's halves partner Jacob Gagai was also impressive in his maiden NYC match after playing in the SG Ball last season.
The younger brother of Knights' centre Dane Gagai proved his worth and even bagged a special solo try in the second half.
Of course beating the defending NYC premiers is a great result, but most pleasing for coach Michael Crawley was his side's defence.
Newcastle started the match full of running and dominated possession in the opening exchanges.
New recruit Jaelen Feeney looked sharp in attack, especially with his kicking game that regularly found open space.
As good as the Knights looked early though, it was Penrith who opened the scoring after seven minutes via winger Solofa Silipa.
Silipa finished off a slick backline move to plant the ball down out wide.
Centre Regan Haika converted to give the Panthers a 6-0 lead.
Penrith extended their advantage six minutes later after some clever play from hooker Josh Tangitali.
Tangitali put in a perfectly timed grubber kick for lock Sione Katoa to pick up the ball and score under the posts.
Haika converted to give the home side a 12-0 lead.
Penrith were in complete control on the scoreboard and it showed on the field with the men in black dominating possession.
The Panthers had four consecutive sets on Newcastle’s line, but were unable to convert thanks to some strong Knights’ defence.
Fullback Jake Mamo was particularly impressive and came up with a number of brilliant tackles on his own line to prevent certain tries.
As hard as Newcastle tried, they couldn’t hold the ball and Penrith punished them.
Rangy back-rower Chris Smith made a strong 30-metre charge to score and add to the Panthers’ commanding lead.
Haika converted and Penrith led 18-0 with 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
Newcastle refused to give in though and Mamo ensured they’d go to the halftime break with some points on the board.
The fullback, who trained with the Club’s NRL squad over the summer, did it all himself with a powerful solo try to score adjacent to the uprights.
Winger Bryce Donovan converted to reduce the Panthers’ lead to 18-6 at the break.
Newcastle had the worst possible start to the second half when replacement forward Josh King dropped the ball from the kick-off.
The Panthers couldn’t convert their chance though, enabling the Knights to control possession in the early stages of the second half.
Half Feeney was prominent in attack and defence, coming up with some big hits and runs.
The former Bulldog was at his brilliant best eight minutes into the second half when he put on a perfect face-ball for forward Luke Yates to score.
Donovan added the extras and the Knights were right back in the match 18-12.
Newcastle was well and truly back in the game and levelled the scores at 18-all just two minutes later after a slashing solo try by five-eighth Jacob Gagai.
The Panthers looked to have scored three minutes later via lock Katoa, but his effort was challenged by the Knights and ruled no try due to a knock on.
This proved to be a decisive decision, with Mamo barging over from close range.
Donovan converted and the Knights led for the first time 24-18 with 20 minutes left in the match.
Penrith weren’t out of the match though and hit back five minutes later with winger Silipa grabbing his second try.
Haika missed the conversion and the Knights maintained a slender 24-22 advantage.
Penrith were coming back and looked dangerous minutes later, but it counted for nothing when Mamo picked up a loose ball in his own in-goal to run the length of the field and score.
Donovan converted to extend the Knights’ lead to 30-22 with 30 minutes remaining.
Newcastle added to their lead minutes later thanks to a penalty goal to Donovan. The Knights were in control 32-22 and added another two points in the closing stages following another penalty goal to lead 34-22.
NYC Full Time
Newcastle Knights 34 (T: Mamo 3, Yates, Gagai, G: Donovan 5/5, P: Donovan 2/2)
Penrith Panthers 22 (T: Silipa, Katoa, Smith, G: Haika 3/3)
Knights: Mamo, Donovan, S.Mata’utia, Peni, Birch, Gagai, Feeney, Pakau, Levi, Togiatasi, Fitzgibbon, Yates, Boyce. Bench: De Saxe, King, Koopu, Smith.
Panthers: Naden, Jay, Dodd, Haika, Silipa, Boss, Brackenhofer, Saunders, Tangitali, Pelesasa, Smith, Attwood, Katoa. Bench: Harawira, Taueli, Stratton, Albert.
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