The Panthers 2016 season has come to a messy end with a 22-12 defeat to Canberra Raiders at GIO Stadium on Saturday.
Pacey and powerful in attack, the Raiders took hold of the match in the first half and enjoyed a 12-0 lead at the break.
Handling and defensive errors undermined opportunities for the Panthers until they had a burst of brilliance in the second half to close the gap to a converted try.
However from there Canberra pulled away with more possession and sealed the result with a 75th-minute penalty goal.
Panthers centre Waqa Blake was a late withdrawal after failing to come through a fitness test on his injured shoulder. Zak Hardaker was promoted to the starting side with Moses Leota coming on to the bench.
The Raiders opened the scoring in the 12th minute as returning playmaker Blake Austin cut back and straight through the Panthers defensive line to touch down. Jarrod Croker slotted the simple conversion to give the home side a 6-0 lead.
In the 27th minute Cartwright lost the ball to Croker, who ran away to claim a try. However the video referee spotted the second man in the tackle and ruled an illegal strip.
Two minutes later Isaah Yeo copped a swinging arm to the jaw and groggily left the field for a head injury assessment. However the Panthers couldn’t earn the repeat set they needed as Nathan Cleary’s grubber rolled harmlessly out of play.
Canberra extended their lead in the 36th as Joey Leilua broke down the right channel and put in the perfect grubber for Jordan Rapana on his outside. The Raiders winger tracked down the ball and grounded it just in time. Croker slotted the sideline conversion for a 12-0 lead.
HALFTIME – Raiders 12-0
The second half got off to a disastrous start for the Panthers with Sitaleki Akauola giving away a penalty off the kick off. The Raiders marched down field and after earning a repeat set, Croker powered his way over out wide. He then converted from the sideline to make it 18-0 in the 45th minute.
Getting increasingly desperate, the Panthers hit back with 20 minutes left in the game as Tyrone Peachey dived over in the corner. It came as the visitors ran the ball on the last tackle and Moylan threw a spectacular cut-out ball to the wing. Nathan Cleary nailed the sideline conversion to make it 18-6.
Five minutes later the Panthers were in again. Running it on the final tackle, as per normal, the ball travelled from the left flank back to the right and an early pass from Hardaker gave Dallin Watene-Zelezniak time and space to complete the try in the corner. Cleary slotted the sideline conversion and suddenly it was 18-12.
With seven minutes left in the game a high tackle from James Fisher-Harris gave the Raiders a simple penalty goal attempt, and Croker obliged. It made the score 20-12 and put the contest beyond the Panthers.
The Raiders then iced the result with another penalty goal after the final siren.
FULLTIME - Raiders 22-12