A spirited fightback fell short as the ISP Panthers suffered a 22-16 defeat to Wyong Roos at St Marys Stadium on Saturday.
The Panthers finished the game with one fit reserve after Corey Harawira-Naera, Andrew Heffernan and Josh Hall all left the contest prematurely.
It was a scrappy opening to the game with both sides giving away penalties and making unforced errors.
The Panthers had the first real chance of the match in the 9th minute when Viliame Kikau got a late offload to Zach Dockar-Clay. The hooker found Dylan Edwards on the inside but the pass was ruled forward.
It was Tyler Cornish who finally opened the scoring in the 24th minute. Cornish took advantage of a repeat set when he took the line on and spun out of a tackle to dive over. He converted his own try to give Wyong a 6-0 lead.
Panthers coach Steve Georgallis was forced to re-shuffle his backline when Malakai Watene-Zelezniak came from the field. Ray Lesoa shifted to the wing with Andrew Heffernan moving to the centres.
Wyong extended the lead in the 29th minute when some clever second phase play saw Luke Garner cross in the right hand corner. The conversion was successful from Cornish to give the Roos a 12-0 lead.
A clever 40/20 to Wyong gave them a great attacking opportunity with five minutes remaining in the first half. Dominic Reardon ensured the Roos took full advantage of the possession and sliced through the Panthers defence to extend the lead further. Cornish was in impressive form with the boot, slotting the conversion from out wide to give the Roos an 18-point lead.
HALFTIME - Wyong 18-0
Heffernan was helped from the field early in the second half with a left shoulder injury. Watene-Zelezniak came back into the contest after he left the field with injury in the first half.
Play was stopped shortly after when the Panthers lost Corey Harawira-Naera to concussion. The versatile backrower was out cold after being checked chasing a Te Maire Martin cross-field kick.
The Panthers knew they had to be first to score in the second half and Stanton Albert ensured Penrith stayed in the contest when he scored a four-pointer in the 51st minute. Martin put up a midfield bomb that was cleanly taken by Josh Hall, who found Albert on the inside.
The task for the Panthers was made even harder when Hall came from the field for a concussion test in the 56th minute. Hall passed and returned to the field in the 65th minute.
Former Panther Chris Smith came back to haunt his old side as he busted through the line to find Garner in support to collect his second try of the day. The conversion was waved away but Wyong held a 22-6 lead in the 59th minute.
George Jennings kept the Panthers in the contest when he chased through a Martin grubber and planted the ball down millimetres inside the corner post. Zach Dockar-Clay’s conversion was waved away, leaving the score 22-10 with 15 minutes remaining.
Hall’s mixed afternoon took another turn when he was helped from the field with lower back pain.
Dockar-Clay’s great second half continued when he found Watene-Zelezniak with a great cut-out pass and a clear run to the line. The conversion was successful from Dockar-Clay reducing the margin to six with seven minutes remaining.
The Panthers threw caution to the wind in the final minutes of the game but the Roos held on to take the victory and all-important two competition points.
FULLTIME - Wyong 22-16