Knights forward OK with confident Panthers

Stephen Crichton (No.1) caused a stir after a Penrith try against Canberra in round five.
Stephen Crichton (No.1) caused a stir after a Penrith try against Canberra in round five.

Newcastle second-rower Mitchell Barnett has leapt to the defence of NRL rivals Penrith, claiming they aren't arrogant but have every right to be as confident as they like.

The Panthers' attitude was questioned last week, amid claims they had grown too cocky with their on-field behaviour after a try celebration sparked a melee against Canberra.

But Barnett isn't buying it.

His Knights will go into Thursday's clash with Penrith knowing they were the only side not to be beaten by the Panthers last year.

Regardless, Barnett has no doubt which team should enter more confident, given the grand final defeat to Melbourne remains Penrith's only loss since last June.

"I don't think it's arrogance, I think it's confidence, and I think they deserve to be," Barnett said of the questions over Penrith's behaviour.

"They're the benchmark of competition I believe, and I just think it's confidence and they enjoy playing with each other.

"They've all played junior footy together so they know each other back of their hands.

"So I don't think there's any arrogance there."

Barnett agreed with Panthers coach Ivan Cleary who claims his players were just learning to stand up for themselves, as part of their evolution.

While Cleary made a point last week that he didn't like Stephen Crichton dragging Canberra's Joe Tapine into a celebration, it is known that Penrith have wanted to stand up to the niggle this year.

"You've got to remember they are the top team, everyone's coming after them," Barnett said.

"And I bet there would be plenty of sledging going on there.

"So you'd expect them to (stand up for themselves), that's why they're on top of the table."

Thursday's clash shapes as nothing like the 14-14 draw between the two teams on the competition's return from the COVID-19 enforced suspension last May.

Penrith were without Nathan Cleary on that day, while the Knights were as resilient as they have been at any point in recent memory, down to a rotation of just 15 players inside 10 minutes.

Barnett didn't play that game through injury, while his left-edge attacking weapon Kalyn Ponga was missing through suspension.

Ponga has recovered from illness to face the Panthers tis time, after he and Barnett combined directly for two tries last week in only their second game togther in 2021.

"With KP you don't know what's going to happen, so it's a bit more ad-lib footy," Barnett said.

"He gets a bit more hands-on-ball and just does what he does.

"He's real instinctive, so you've got to react to him a lot more.

"Whereas I was leading a bit more, and having fullbacks out the back of me with Tex (Hoy) out the back of me."

Australian Associated Press