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Knights hold off Panthers in Qualifying Final

The Newcastle Knights have defeated the Penrith Panthers 22-16 in a fiery Jersey Flegg Cup encounter to progress to next weekend's Major Semi-final.

The match was a cagey affair early on before the Panthers took the lead through Zac Lipowicz, who carried defenders to the line with ease to score.

Recent NRL debutant Oryn Keeley soon hit back for the Knights after he retrieved the ball from a kick that was batted down, then dummied on his way to scoring.

Newcastle produced a flurry of points thereafter when a left side raid sent Ethan Ferguson on a run, whose infield chip landed in the lap of fullback Fletcher Sharpe to cross.

Their lead was extended five minutes later when James Johnson shook off some flimsy defence to set up a 16-4 lead for Newcastle at halftime.

The Panthers were first to score in the second half through centre Elone Taufa when he put on a fend to beat his opposite man and planted the ball down.

The comeback became slightly more difficult for Penrith when winger Cody Lawson dropped a bomb which landed in the path of Newcastle No.15 Paul Bryan to score, with captain Thomas Cant converting for a 22-8 lead.

Refusing to lie down, the Panthers kept coming back and Lawson redeemed himself with a spectacular put-down in the corner. He then posted his second try 10 minutes later to reduce the margin to 22-16, but it ultimately wasn’t to be Penrith’s day against a strong Newcastle outfit.

Talking points

It was a difficult afternoon with the boot for Penrith halfback Keagan Russell-Smith, who was unable to convert any tries for the visitors. At full-time both sides were separated by a narrow six points despite scoring four tries apiece.

The Panthers will take plenty of positives from today's defeat as they move on to the Minor Semi-final. With a complete reshuffle of the lower-grade teams due to host of NRL stars being rested, 10 of Penrith's 2022 SG Ball Cup winning squad featured in this match and put in an almighty effort.

The matchup today would have provided invaluable experience for the Panthers' youngsters at Jersey Flegg Cup level, let alone in finals football.

Key moment

Penrith started the second half well and their defence was brilliant in parts, but the error that led to Paul Bryan’s try set up a 22-8 lead that was too difficult to overcome.

What’s next?

The Newcastle Knights have earned a spot in next week's Major Semi-final clash with Minor Premiers the Sydney Roosters.

The Penrith Panthers - who are rewarded with a double chance by finishing in third position - will now take on the winner of tomorrow's Elimination Final, in the do-or-die Minor Semi-final next week.