Penrith Panthers ISP v Illawarra Cutters, July 17, Pepper StadiumPhoto by Jeff Lambert (Penrith Panthers)

The ISP Panthers were left to rue missed opportunities as they suffered a 22-18 defeat to the Illawarra Cutters at Pepper Stadium on Sunday.

Penrith paid the price for some loose errors in both attack and defence, but still showed considerable improvement from when the teams faced off back in Round 3. 

The Panthers kicked off to a disjointed start that saw captain Will Smith injured in a matter of seconds. Smith hit the bench and the home side struggled to adjust to an unexpected change in the halves.

Illawarra wasted no time in firing attack down the middle to lure Penrith's defence out of position. Taane Milne cleaned up a Drew Hutchinson grubber to cross in the 6th minute. Shaun Nona slotted the conversion to put the visitors ahead 6-0.

Penrith responded with a series of unforced errors, gifting their opponents with repeat sets and the Cutters continued to cause havoc within Panthers territory.

Illawarra utility Levi Dodd palmed off Panthers defenders out wide, but his dangerous offload was scooped up just in time by Zach Dockar-Clay.

Despite minutes of strong defence by the home side, Nona and Hutchinson combined swiftly and set up Issac Tompson to crash over in the 26th minute. As Nona’s conversion was waved away, Illawarra held onto a 10-0 lead.

Just when Penrith were battling to make metres, Dockar-Clay seized an opportunity to burst through a hole and dive over in the 27th minute. Josh Hall sent the ball through the posts to put his side up 10-6.

Clinging to newfound momentum, the Panthers shifted play from left to right. Amidst a chaotic set, Andrew Heffernan offloaded to Malakai Watne-Zelezniak, who tore down the right to cross in the 31st minute. Another successful Josh Hall conversion gave Penrith a 12-10 lead.

Hall then sunk a penalty earned by Heffernan to push Penrith further ahead 14-10.

HALFTIME - Panthers 14-10

The Cutters opened the second stanza with a Jay Gallagher try out wide in the 47th minute. Nona’s successful conversion propelled the visitors back in front 16-14.

The Illawarra pack continued to test the Panthers defence, but were held out with Sione Katoa pulling off a couple of try-saving tackles.

Illawarra were eventually rewarded for their persistence in the 54th minute, as Dunamis Lui broke through a hole in Penrith defence to steamroll over. Another accurate conversion by Nona propelled the visitors ahead 22-14.

Penrith responded with an attack down the left, but struggled to turn possession into points. After a series of missed opportunities, Panthers centre George Jennings finally drew Illawarra defenders out of position and got over the line in the 69th minute. Hall's attempted conversion was waved away to leave Penrith behind 22-18.

The Panthers desperately sought last minute points but were unable to penetrate the composed Cutters outfit.

FULLTIME - Cutters 22-18