Newcastle finished with the NRL’s wooden spoon on Saturday after being shut out in the second half of their 30-12 defeat to Penrith.
The Knights led 12-8 at halftime but, led by Dean Whare and Tyrone Peachey, the Panthers crossed for four tries to none in a dominant second-half performance.
Despite missing 10 regular first-graders, the Panthers staved off a last-place finish with a hearty effort in front of a vocal crowd of 8936 at Pepper Stadium, temporarily lifting themselves to 11th spot on the ladder.
For the Knights, the spoon summed up a disappointing year that included the sacking of coach Rick Stone in July.
Departing Knights skipper Kurt Gidley couldn’t even bring himself to talk about being lumped with league’s most-unwanted prize at the end of a decorated NRL career.
“I don’t want to really comment on those couple of words. I don’t want them coming out of my mouth, to be honest,” he said post-game. “I’d prefer to look back over my whole career rather than this game and this year.”
A philosophical Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said it was strange that the rugby league community wanted to label a team finishing last.
“I’ll say that on Newcastle’s behalf, because the bottom line is you’re a few wins out of the eight,” he said. “The competition’s as close as ever. The NRL’s got what it’s wanted and it’s a close comp.”
Penrith’s Will Smith opened the scoring for the home side before he also kicked them out to an 8-0 lead with a penalty goal.
Retiring Knights forward Clint Newton wrestled momentum back for the visitors, crashing over from close range for his first try in almost two years, before Jake Mamo soared to give the visitors their 12-8 lead at the break.
Late inclusion Whare regained the lead for the Panthers when he steamed onto an inside ball in the 46th minute. The Knights threatened to hit back, however a 70-metre intercept by Panthers debutant Chris Smith allowed Peachey to dive over on the next play.
A brawl erupted in the 65th minute when Newcastle’s Nathan Ross dumped Whare on his head without the ball, before Panthers winger Josh Mansour put the result beyond doubt five minutes later.
Peachey’s second try in the closing minutes sealed the win, giving Simmons a goal in his 200th and final match of his NRL career.
Newcastle forward Tariq Sims was put on report for a shoulder charge early in the first half.