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Pressure builds on O’Brien at Knights as Cleary bounces back from Origin loss in Panthers’ cakewalk

Nathan Cleary rebounded from NSW’s State of Origin defeat by delivering a masterclass as Penrith claimed a 42-6 win over a Newcastle side deprived of Kalyn Ponga on Sunday.

The loss continued a poor run of form for the Knights which has brought just two wins from their last 11 games under coach Adam O’Brien.

Newcastle haven’t won in their last five games at home and have conceded 197 points in that time. 

In front of 21,332 fans at McDonald Jones Stadium, Ponga was trampled by Viliame Kikau when the Penrith forward barged over for a try in the 13th minute.

Ponga went off for HIA and did not return to the field after laying prone while attempting to thwart the Fijian back-rower close to the Knights’ line.

Given the Knights don’t play Canberra until next Sunday, the fullback should be able to play another match prior to Queensland’s Origin II team announcement the following week.

Even in the period their star man was on the field, the Knights were largely ineffective due to the brilliance of Cleary and halves partner Jarome Luai.

The Penrith duo had an uncharacteristically poor showing in Origin I but both responded perfectly.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 12: Stephen Crichton of the Panthers is tackled during the round 14 NRL match between the Newcastle Knights and the Penrith Panthers at McDonald Jones Stadium, on June 12, 2022, in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Stephen Crichton. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

Without lock Isaah Yeo (rested) and Cleary’s father and head coach Ivan – due to an ongoing knee problem – the Panthers were faultless, exemplified by the fact they finished the first half with a 100 per cent completion rate.

Cleary and Luai played a one-two to open the scoring through the halfback on the left edge before Kikau bowled his way over the line and left Ponga in his wake.

Cleary then caught Newcastle’s stand-in fullback Kurt Mann out of position with a 40-20 which allowed winger Taylan May to burrow over on the next set.

Brian To’o crossed on the opposing flank and Cleary added a penalty on the stroke of half-time to leave the Panthers with a 26-0 advantage.

Centre Izack Tago continued Penrith’s hot run when he dived on a Kikau grubber just after half-time. Stephen Crichton went over late on and To’o added another to his tally. 

Cleary kicked six of seven conversions to boost Penrith’s total and help reinstate their four-point gap at the top of the NRL ladder. 

Newcastle scored their sole try in the last five minutes courtesy of Edrick Lee. 


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