The Panthers fall one game short of the Harold Matthews Cup Grand Final with a 22-10 defeat to Manly Sea Eagles at St Marys Leagues Stadium on Saturday.
The Sea Eagles opened the scoring in the 5th minute when hooker Gordon Cham Kum Tong burrowed over from dummy half. Winger Ulukai Tuipulotu converted to hand Manly an early 6-0 lead.
The Panthers came close to responding in the 10th minute when five-eighth Niwhai Puru toed the football into the in goal with Sunia Turuva chasing through, however the centre was unable to reel the ball in before it dribbled dead.
The Panthers made no mistake on their next opportunity however, as five-eighth Niwhai Puru delivered a well-weighted short ball to second rower Izack Tago, who crashed over the line. Puru's conversion attempt was unsuccessful, and the Panthers trailed by two points after 14 minutes.
The Sea Eagles returned to a six-point advantage in the 19th minute when lock James Uesele powered over the line. Tuipulotu added the extras to extend the Sea Eagles lead to 12-4.
A 27th-minute line break by Maxwell Pritchard saw the Panthers go on the attack in the closing stages of the first half, but were unable to capitalise on a deft grubber to the in goal by Puru.
The Sea Eagles surged upfield from the 20-metre tap and scored on the stroke of halftime as fullback Tolutau Koula crossed out wide. Tuipulotu failed to convert, and the Sea Eagles went into halftime leading by 12 points.
HALF-TIME: PANTHERS 4-16 MANLY
The Panthers dominated the opening 5 minutes of the first half and had numerous opportunities in the red zone, but came up empty handed as the Sea Eagles goal line defence was up to the task.
Manly had a golden chance in the 38th minute when halfback Kaeo Weekes broke into the backfield with teammates in support, but his offload was off the mark and dribbled over the sideline.
Captain Puru took it upon himself to narrow the margin for the Panthers in the 43rd minute, taking on the line and slicing through to touch down before adding the conversion to make it a six-point ball game.
The Panthers came close to crossing again in the 51st minute when hooker Braith Alexander went short close to the try line, but some rattling goal line defence forced a knock on saw the Sea Eagles hold onto their lead.
The Sea Eagles converted their defensive efforts into points with just 4 minutes to spare when Cham Kum Tong squirmed over the line. Tuipulotu missed the conversion, but kicked a penalty goal in the final minute of play to end the Panthers season.
FULL-TIME: PANTHERS 10-22 MANLY