Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett has labelled his team as fragile after their thumping at the hands of Penrith on Sunday in the NRL.

Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett has described his slumping team as “fragile” after they were handed a 32-10 NRL hiding by Penrith at Hunter Stadium.

Knights centre Joey Leilua produced two of the biggest gaffes of the season on Sunday to consign the home side to a third straight defeat and anchor them to the bottom of the NRL ladder.

A brief first-half thunderstorm ushered in a bizarre afternoon of football, with Panthers fullback Matt Moylan setting up one of the most miraculous tries of the season and teammate Nigel Plum managing to knock himself out and get put on report in the same tackle.

It was a scrappy victory for the Panthers, but their spine attacking players Jamie Soward, Peter Wallace, Moylan and hooker James Segeyaro showed enough class and energy to secure the mountain men’s place in the top eight and get their season back on track.

The Knights on the other hand are in a deep hole ahead of next week’s clash with Manly at Brookvale, and Bennett says the doom will continue until his troops can address their mental weaknesses.

“You can just about write the script for it. You make a handling error, you give a penalty away and then you get scored on. That’s what the top teams don’t do. Teams that are mentally strong don’t do that,” Bennett said post-match.

“We’re a pretty fragile footy team. We do things that make us even more fragile and until we can start to win a few of those battles (there’s no way out).

“It’s a tough period there’s no doubt about that. We’ve got to stay at it. We don’t have an alternative.”

Newcastle were lethargic and mistake-riddled, but Leilua came up with a pair of brain explosions which gave his side little chance of stopping the Panthers.

In the 20th minute, Wallace put in a grubber kick which looked certain to go dead, only for Moylan to sensationally leap into the air – fortuitously stepping on Darius Boyd’s shoulder to keep him off the ground – and bat the ball back into play.

Leilua was there to clean it up, but threw a reckless ball in his own in-goal, allowing Panthers winger David Simmons to touch down for a 10-4 lead.

Then after the Panthers scored on either side of halftime to stretch their advantage to 20-10, Leilua offended again when he attempted a no-look flick-pass which went nowhere near its intended target.

Penrith centre Dean Whare scooped it up and raced 75m untouched to put the game virtually beyond doubt.

It was Penrith’s first win on the road this season, and coach Ivan Cleary described Moylan’s effort as a game-changer.

“Those sorts of efforts away from home, it’s contagious,” said Cleary.

“I reckon it was just about his best game of the year. He was taking quick taps and trying to spark our play at every opportunity.”

Penrith are confident prop Plum isn’t seriously injured, despite being stretchered off the field and put in a neck brace after colliding with Mullen’s shoulder in a tackle attempt for which he was put on report.