The Panthers were left to rue missed opportunities after suffering a 26-22 defeat to Cronulla Sharks at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Sunday.
Cronulla struck first as fullback Josh Dugan put in a perfectly-weighted grubber for winger Valentine Holmes to scoop up and score untouched. The attempted conversion from halfback Chad Townsend was waved away, leaving the score 4-0 after seven minutes.
Four minutes later the Sharks thought they had extended their lead as winger Christian Crichton was stripped of the ball in the in-goal. However the video referee ruled the ball had travelled forward off Cronulla and the Panthers were spared.
The Panthers hit back after a period of sustained pressure on the Sharks line. Quick hands to the left flank found an overlap and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, in his first game back from a broken jaw, touched down in the corner. Maloney knocked the conversion over to give the Panthers a 6-4 lead in the 21st minute.
Cronulla took advantage of some tired Panthers defence in the 30th minute as backrower Scott Sorensen burst through a gap and charged to the tryline. Townsend kicked the simple conversion to give the Sharks a 10-6 lead.
Both sides had golden attacking opportunities in the ten minutes before the break. Cronulla bombed a long-range try when the final pass went to ground, while at the other end of the field the Panthers couldn't crack some resolute Sharks defence.
HALF-TIME – Panthers 6 – 10 Sharks
Five minutes after the break Cronulla extended their lead as centre Jesse Ramien pierced the Panthers goal-line defence from close range. Townsend kicked the conversion to make the score 16-6.
In the 50th minute back-to-back penalties moved the Sharks downfield then allowed Townsend to knock over a simple penalty goal for an 18-6 lead.
The Panthers responded in the 56th minute as Sione Katoa put a grubber into the in-goal on the fifth tackle. Dylan Edwards won the race to the ball and scored. Maloney's conversion reduced Cronulla's lead to six points.
With 14 minutes left to play James Segeyaro returned the favour for the Sharks, pouncing on his own grubber as the Panthers defence was caught napping. Townsend slotted the conversion to make the score 24-12.
In the 73rd minute the Sharks wrapped up the result with another Townsend penalty goal.
The Panthers weren't giving up however and Isaah Yeo powered through a Matt Moylan tackle to score from close range with four minutes left. Maloney was successful with the attempted conversion, but it was mere consolation.
In the final minute Viliame Kikau crossed for a try but it was too little too late as time ran out on a potential comeback.
FULL-TIME - Panthers 22 - 26 Sharks