Newcastle centre Joey Leilua produced two of the biggest gaffes of the season, to hand Penrith a 32-10 win at Hunter Stadium which keeps the hapless Knights anchored to the bottom of the NRL ladder.
A short first-half thunderstorm ushered in a bizarre afternoon of football in Newcastle, with Panthers fullback Matt Moylan setting up a miraculous try and teammate Nigel Plum managing to knock himself out and get put on report in the same tackle.
It was a scrappy victory for the Panthers, but their attacking players up the spine – Jamie Soward, Peter Wallace, Moylan and hooker James Segeyaro, showed enough class and energy to get the mountain men into the top eight and their season back on track.
The Knights on the other hand are in a deep hole after a third straight loss, and will remain dead last by the end of the round if Cronulla beat Parramatta on Monday night.
Newcastle were collectively lethargic and mistake-riddled, but Leilua came up with a pair of brain explosions which gave his side little chance of stopping the Panthers.
In the 20th minute, Wallace put in a grubber kick which looked certain to go dead, only for Moylan to sensationally leap into the air – fortuitously stepping on Darius Boyd’s shoulder to keep him off the ground – and batting the ball back into play.
Leilua was there to clean it up, but threw a ridiculous ball in his own in-goal, allowing Panthers winger David Simmons to touch down for a 10-4 lead.
The Panthers then scored on either side of halftime to stretch their advantage to 20-10, Leilua offending again when he attempted a no-look flick-pass which went nowhere near its intended target – with Penrith centre Dean Whare scooping up and racing 75m untouched to put the game virtually beyond doubt.
Leilua was also bundled into touch and threw a ball over the sideline.
Next week the Knights travel to Brookvale Oval to tackle high-flying Manly, and if they fall to a fourth-straight defeat, their season will be nearly impossible to rescue.
Queensland Origin star Boyd looked pedestrian at fullback and Jarrod Mullen’s nice touches were to no avail.
Penrith are confident prop Plum isn’t seriously injured, despite being stretchered off the field and put in a neck brace after colliding with Mullen’s shoulder in a tackle attempt.
Despite coming off second best, Plum was placed on report for the reckless nature of his hit on Mullen, who was kicking.