The Panthers have fallen to a 28-2 defeat at the hands of Cronulla Sharks at Pepper Stadium.
Anthony Griffin handed a late call up to a trio of players, as Moses Leota, Tim Browne and Peta Hiku were brought on to the interchange bench.
The Panthers had much of the ball in the first half but were unable to capitalise on repeat sets inside Sharks territory. Meanwhile, the defending Premiers showed how they earnt their tag with clinical precision at both ends of the park.
A forceful tackle from the pint-sized Tyrone Peachey forced an error from stand-in winger Kurt Capewell to give the home side the first opportunity at points in the game.
A penalty in the next set would afford Nathan Cleary a shot at goal, which he converted to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead after eight minutes.
However, despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession and territory, the Panthers found themselves behind after 15 minutes courtesy of the Sharks’ halves. Chad Townsend’s grubber sat up kindly for the onrushing James Maloney to swoop in and score. Maloney would convert his own try to give his side a 6-2 lead.
The Bunker was called in to action at the midway point of the half when Jack Bird ran through a gap off a set play, however he was denied as Wade Graham had obstructed James Fisher-Harris’ attempt to make a tackle.
The Panthers continued to probe away at the Sharks line and nearly cracked through their stubborn defence when Peachey released Waqa Blake, but a covering Capewell ushered Blake out over the sideline.
With the half winding down, the Sharks capitalised on a rare foray forward to build a handy buffer at the break. An overlap on the left edge was finished off by Sosaia Feki in the corner, before Maloney’s sideline conversion pushed the score out to 12-2.
HALF TIME: Penrith Panthers 2 – 12 Cronulla Sharks
The visitors picked up where they left off following the break and capitalised on their first opportunity to score through Bird. The centre wasn’t to be denied when he charged on to a flat pass from Townsend and burst through the line from short range. Maloney’s conversion sailed wide and the score remained 16-2.
The Sharks halves were starting to take control of the game by the scruff of the neck and had the Panthers pegged back on their own line for much of the half before Paul Gallen struck another killer blow on the hour.
The skipper dug his way under a tackle, and despite no clear vision of him grounding the ball, the Bunker decided against overruling the on-field decision of try. Maloney made the simple conversion from besides the uprights to make it 22-2.
Andrew Fifita wrapped up the win when he ran on to a Joseph Paulo grubber close to the line as the Sharks walked away with a 28-2 victory.
FULL TIME: Penrith Panthers 2 – 28 Cronulla Sharks