Penrith Panthers send James Maloney out as NRL winner

Penrith have sent James Maloney out a winner after putting Newcastle to the sword 54-10 in their NRL dead rubber at Panthers Stadium.

Playing the final game of the league's regular season, the Panthers had far too much energy on Sunday for a Knights defence that showed little resilience.

Much of the build-up centred on the farewell of Super League-bound veteran James Maloney, however teammate Nathan Cleary stole the show.

The star halfback scored four tries, assisted on a fifth, and kicked a perfect nine goals from as many attempts for a club-record 34-point individual haul.

"It would've been better if it come about three months earlier," coach Ivan Cleary said after the game.

"He's tried hard all year. It's been a year that he'd look back on and feel like he could play better.

"But not unlike the rest of the team, it's a necessary part of the journey and a year that we'll look back on and will help us in the future."

Second-gamer Billy Burns also had an afternoon to remember, crossing for two tries and setting up another in front of a crowd of 12,024.

For an attack that has often been the achilles heel of a disappointing campaign, the 52 points was easily the Panthers' highest score of the year.

Rated a title contender in the pre-season, Penrith finished the year in 10th spot.

Newcastle, widely tipped in March as a top-eight prospect, end up in 11th and miss September for a sixth-straight year.

Knights caretaker Kristian Woolf said it was obvious early his team weren't up for the contest despite being in the game early.

"Your defence is where you show your commitment to each other," he said.

"They were hitting a little bit harder than we were and getting off their line harder than we were and the team that does that tends to win the game.

"Once things became tough, we weren't real committed tonight. It's a pretty disappointing performance."

Penrith already had the game sewn up at 30-10 when Knights hooker Connor Watson was sin-binned for a professional foul in the 58th minute.

From there, the visitors threw in the towel, opening up for an embarrassing four tries in nine minutes to slump to their worst defeat of an equally sorry season.

The early signs were positive for the Knights after debutant Starford To'a took to the bright lights with a 70-metre intercept to open the scoring.

However, Cleary responded quickly with his first solo try soon after, and winger Brian To'o matched him by beating seven defenders seven minutes later.

Having found plenty of success with a more-direct attack, Cleary completed his double with a show-and-go for an 18-4 halftime lead.

The highlight of the match was second-rower Viliame Kikau tiptoeing the sideline and palming off two defenders before flicking back for Wayde Egan to score.

The only downside for Penrith was an ankle injury to To'o, while Knights centre Sione Mata'utia also failed to finish the match with a knee problem.