The Harold Matts Panthers conceded two late tries in a heartbreaking 16-14 defeat against Newcastle Knights at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.
The Panthers led by 10 points with five minutes remaining before the Knights scored back-to-back tries to snatch the victory.
The Panthers will now play either the Bulldogs or Illawarra Steelers in a sudden death semi-final next weekend.
The Panthers came close to opening the scoring in the 5th minute when halfback Connor Mason sent a blistering face ball to Liam Kennedy close to the line, but the second rower couldn’t hang onto the ball.
After surviving an attacking tirade by the Knights, the Panthers were dealt a cruel blow in the 9th minute when fullback Donovan Boney was taken off the field with an injury, forcing a backline shuffle.
The Knights looked to open the scoring in the 20th minute as Hayden Regan set his sights on the try line, but the winger was barreled into touch by Panthers centre Kristian-Li Mai.
The Knights put on a backline shift came close again in the 23rd minute, however the Panthers scrambling goal line defence forced an error and Penrith came away with the football.
The Panthers were rewarded for their defensive efforts in the 25th minute when second rower Zac Lipowicz brushed off a number of Newcastle defenders to crash over the try line. Five-eighth Niwhai Puru pushed the conversion wide and the score remained 4-0.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 4-0 KNIGHTS
Knights prop Broc Hunt thought he had opened Newcastle’s account just one minute into the second half after picking up the scraps of a dropped bomb to cross the line. However the Panthers were given a reprieve as the Knights kick-chasers were caught offside.
Off the penalty, the Panthers marched into the Knights half where Puru sent Sunia Turuva into open space with a swift inside ball, and the makeshift fullback streaked away and touched down in the corner. Puru’s sideline conversion attempt was unsuccessful, and the score remained 8-0 after 34 minutes.
The Panthers made another error at the back in the 39th minute but didn’t come away unpunished this time as Knights second rower Thomas Cant crossed the line. Fullback Logan Radzievic failed to convert and the margin remained four points.
An error by the Knights deep inside their own half gifted the Panthers an attacking opportunity in the 44th minute, and prop Jai Wynbergen subsequently crashed over the try line. Puru added the extras to extend the Panthers lead to 14-4.
A line break by Trent Borthwick in the 53rd minute saw the Panthers return to the Knights red zone, and Penrith came close to putting the result beyond doubt when a deflected grubber sat up nicely for Osemen Momoh over the try line. However the prop failed to ground the ball as the Knights remained in the contest.
The Knights set up a grandstand finish in the 55th minute when Radzievic pounced on a wayward grubber to touch down, then converted to narrow the margin to close the gap to four points with just four minutes remaining.
The Knights then snatched the win in the 57th minute when Jonah Pezet’s chip and chase sat up perfectly for the halfback to touch down under the posts. Radzievic kicked the conversion to edge the Knights ahead in what proved to be the killer blow.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 14-16 KNIGHTS