A young and inexperienced Panthers outfit fell to a 24-12 loss to Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks at Panthers Stadium on Friday night.
The Panthers staged a mini-comeback when a try by Corey Harawira-Naera in the 70th minute set up a tight finish, but crucial errors proved too much for Penrith to bounce back from.
After some early end-to-end football, a James Tamou line break carried the Panthers into the Sharks red zone, where Jarome Luai opened the scoring with a 9th-minute penalty goal.
A one-on-one strip by Waqa Blake deep in the Sharks half gave the Panthers an opportunity to open the try-scoring, but a handling error saw the hosts come up empty-handed.
The Sharks caught the Panthers short of numbers out wide in the 14th minute and staged a backline shift, but Wade Graham's final pass to Edrick Lee was off the mark and dribbled into touch.
Debutant Caleb Aekins came up with a brilliant try-saver on Edrick Lee in the 20th minute, but the Sharks shifted wide as the Panthers backpedalled and winger Sione Katoa crossed the line. Chad Townsend converted to put the Sharks ahead 6-2.
The Sharks threatened to score another in the 26th minute when Valentine Holmes poked his nose through the line, but the fullback was cut down inches short by Jarome Luai.
Errors and poor discipline by the Panthers gifted the Sharks another attacking opportunity, where a swift inside ball by Graham allowed Holmes to tumble over the try line. Townsend added the goal to extend the Sharks lead to 10 points after 35 minutes.
HALF-TIME: SHARKS 12 - PANTHERS 2
An Andrew Fifita offload allowed Kurt Capewell to dive for the corner in the 47th minute, but the Panthers rushed across in cover defence and forced a knock on.
The Panthers quickly converted their defensive efforts into points as Luai and Tyrone May combined to help Waqa Blake slice through the Sharks goal line defence. Luai's conversion attempt was unsuccessful, and the difference remained six points after 50 minutes.
Matt Moylan latched onto a Scott Sorensen inside ball and slipped through some weak Panthers goal line defence in the 55th minute to re-open a comfortable lead for the Sharks. Townsend added the extras to make it 18-6.
The Panthers began to apply pressure on the Sharks goal line after the visitors conceded back-to-back penalties. Despite the Panthers coming close on numerous occasions, the Sharks held onto their 12-point advantage after 60 minutes.
The Panthers took full advantage of their next opportunity in the red zone however, as May drew in the defence and sent Corey Harawira-Naera over the stripe with a well-weighted short ball. Luai converted to close the gap to 18-12 with 10 minutes remaining.
The Panthers seemed destined for another try in the 71st minute when Luai made a line break and grubbered wide to an unmarked Christian Crichton. However, the football cruelly bounced behind Crichton over the try line and the winger fumbled.
The Sharks then put the match to bed in the 74th minute when Moylan broke the line and found Holmes in support, who dashed away to score. Townsend's conversion saw it end in a 12-point win for the Sharks.
FULL-TIME: SHARKS 24 - PANTHERS 12