The SG Ball Panthers slipped up in an 18-6 finals defeat against Newcastle Knights at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.
The loss means the Panthers will face either the Raiders or Sea Eagles in a sudden death semi-final next week.
Winger Zac Cini strolled over the try line in what appeared to be the opening try in the 4th minute, however the referee pinned the Panthers for a forward pass.
The Knights then had a chance to open the scoring in the 6th minute when winger Toby Marks pounced on a deft grubber to the in goal, but the touch judge ruled that the football had rolled into touch and the Panthers came away unscathed.
The Panthers weren’t given a reprieve on the Knights’ next attacking chance however, as prop Campbell Sheppard crashed over the try line. Five-eighth Jock Madden kicked the conversion to take the Knights out to a 6-0 lead in the 8th minute.
The Knights thought they had extended their lead in the 18th minute when winger Darcy Heaney latched onto a bullet pass and touched down in the corner, but were denied by a forward pass ruling.
Poor ball handling by the Panthers handed the Knights another chance in the 20th minute, and Newcastle took advantage as second rower Harry Croker toed through to the in-goal and then pounced on the football to score. Madden’s conversion attempt swung wide and the score remained 10-0.
Panthers lock Shawn Blore produced a brilliant try-saving tackle in the 26th minute to deny Madden, but the Knights still managed to cross the line as Croker bagged his second. Madden then added the extras to extend the Knights lead to 16-0.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 0-16 KNIGHTS
The Panthers got off to a blistering start to the second half when Tom Farr took an intercept and rushed into the Knights half, but the winger was mowed down and taken into touch short of the try line as Newcastle retained their 16-point lead.
Zac Cini came agonisingly close to opening the Panthers account in the 40th minute when he reached out for the try line at the end of a slick backline movement, but was pulled up short by the Knights desperate goal line defence.
The Panthers were again denied in the 53rd minute when prop Ratu Nanovo barged over the try line, only to be held up by a swarm of Knights defenders.
The Knights extended their lead to 18-0 in the 57th minute when Madden kicked a penalty goal after Tom Farr was sent to the sin bin.
The Panthers finally opened their account in the 60th minute when halfback Hayden Bonnano sent a deft grubber to the in-goal, which was pounced on by fullback Charlie Staines. Centre Stephen Crichton added the conversion to narrow the margin to 12 points with 10 minutes to play.
However it proved to be too little, too late as the Knights came away with an 18-6 win to proceed to the preliminary finals.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 6-18 KNIGHTS