A record-breaking crowd was on hand to witness Penrith Panthers claim a 38-20 win over a 12-man Newcastle Knights at Carrington Park on Saturday.
Played in front of 11,253 fans, Panthers took a 12-6 lead at the break before pulling away to the 18-point win over the Knights.
The Knights actually looked the better of the two teams after 30 minutes of play, but an absolute brain explosion from Newcastle second rower Mitch Barnett saw the visitors reduced to just 12 men.
While he was pleased to get the result, Ivan Cleary said he was disappointed with the overall performance of his team.
"I'm happy to be 3-0 but I wasn't really happy with the game," he said.
"I felt like our intensity dropped probably when [Knights] went down to 12. We started the game okay but we set the scene for giving away penalties.
"We just invited them down our end and that happened throughout the 80 minutes. We gave away tries in the second half with nothing happening."
Panthers opened the scoring when Taylan May scored from a Jerome Luai grubber kick.
But Newcastle, who led the competition after the opening two rounds, responded with a try of its own when Dominic Young scored. With a successful Jake Clifford conversion, the Knights led 6-4.
Newcastle seemed to be the better of the two teams after half an hour of play, but with seven minutes before the break, Barnett had his brain snap.
With Penrith's Chris Smith making a run off the ball, Barnett lifted his elbow in the chin of the Panthers second rower.
Smith went down and was attended by the team doctor while play went on, but the video referee was ultimately called in to review the decision and Barnett was subsequently given his marching orders. Smith failed his HIA test and was removed from the game and replaced by 18th man Lindsay Smith.
With three minutes remaining in the half, Panthers made the most of the extra man as Tago sold the Knights defenders with a dummy, put in a kick, which May latched on to score his second try of the match.
Crichton kicked the extras and Penrith led 12-6 at the break.
Panthers would extended their lead 10 minutes into the second half when young centre Izack Tago scored, with Crichton adding the extras.
But Newcastle responded with a try of its own through Tex Hoy and after Jake Clifford converted reducing the lead to just six points.
Yet Tago would score his second just three minutes later and a try to Crichton just before the hour mark had the Panthers out to a 28-12 lead.
Two tries from Knights' Bradman Best and Enari Tuala in the space of eight minutes had the Panthers' lead cut back to 28-20, before May's hat trick three minutes from time the last scoring opportunity of the match.
That was Knights' last scoring opportunity of the gaming as May sealed his hat-trick with three minutes left on the clock before Forbes Magpies junior Charlie Staines scored with seconds remaining to seal the Panthers win.
Cleary confirmed that further x-ray will reveal the extent of the injury to Smith.
"I was worried about him. Once I saw what happened and he was holding his jaw, I was really worried," he said.
"I'm not sure what he did, but it's definitely his jaw. We won't know until he gets the x-ray but he's not too bad."
The result cements Penrith at top of the NRL ladder.
Panthers are in action next against South Sydney on Friday night, what will be a NRL grand final rematch.
PENRITH PANTHERS 38 (Taylan May 3, Izack Tago 2, Stephen Crichton, Charlie Staines tries; Crichton 5 goals) defeated NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS 20 (Dominic Young, Tex Hoy, Bradman Best, Enari Tuala tries; Jake Clifford
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