Luai stars as Panthers survive Knights scare

Jasper Bruce |

Jarome Luai has hoisted Penrith to 26-18 defeat of Newcastle to confirm he will go into NSW camp for State of Origin II in scintillating form.

Since his Blues side was outgunned in Origin I, Luai has turned in two starring performances in his new role as the Panthers’ chief playmaker, with his efforts in a 20-6 first half proving the difference on Sunday.

The Knights were gallant all afternoon and stormed back into the contest after half-time. 

Luai’s rival halfback Jackson Hastings set up back-to-back tries as Newcastle threatened to pull off a come-from-behind upset before a sold-out home crowd.

But on return from the quad injury that snatched his NSW debut away ahead of game one, fullback Dylan Edwards scored the try that put the Panthers back on top and on their way to a hard-fought win.

Dylan Edwards impressed for the Panthers against Newcastle.
Dylan Edwards impressed for the Panthers against Newcastle, scoring an important second-half try. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

Still missing talismanic halfback Nathan Cleary, Penrith will finish round 15 in second place, as high as they have sat all season.

“It was a pretty good game today,” said Panthers coach Ivan Cleary.

“I thought they (Newcastle) played well, we played really well in the first half and then once you saw the crowd got into it, they got their tails up.

“It was good that we steadied it.”

It was a poor defensive effort from Luai that led to the Knights’ first try, with the half failing to wrap up Fletcher Sharpe and watching as the stand-in fullback opened the scoring only three minutes into his second NRL game.

But from there, Luai and halves partner Brad Schneider conspired to steady the ship.

“He was probably a good example of resilience. He missed the first tackle for the first try and then played so well after that,” coach Cleary said of Luai.

After forcing back-to-back dropouts off his boot, Luai caught former Panthers teammate Jack Cogger asleep in the defensive line and strolled over for a deft individual try.

Penrith's Lindsay Smith bulldozed his way to a try against Newcastle.
Lindsay Smith scored after being put through by Luai. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

In the shadows of half-time, after Scott Sorensen beat Cogger to a loose ball, the Panthers worked upfield where Luai threw a flat no-look pass to Lindsay Smith. The big man slid over to put Penrith up 20-6 at the break.

The Knights had been gutsier than that scoreline suggested and when field position turned, the scoreline threaten to as well.

“We fixed a couple of things up at half-time, technical things, but the majority of the talk at half-time was about not giving up,” said Knights coach Adam O’Brien.

“I couldn’t ask for any more in terms of effort.”

Centre Bradman Best was immense with 236 run metres on return from a hamstring injury and when he pounced on a Hastings cross-field kick, his side was well in the fight at 20-18.

“He was dangerous all night,” O’Brien said of Best.

It was an Edwards kick return that put the Panthers back in control, the fullback weaving through defenders and coming down close to the halfway line to end a period of Knights dominance.

Shortly thereafter, he followed Moses Leota after the prop burst through the middle and had a try to show for his trademark support running, confirming he too will enter NSW camp on a high.

Blues forward Liam Martin showed no signs of the foot injury that ruled him out of last week’s win over Manly, putting in 71 minutes on the edge for Penrith.