The Panthers fell to a 20-12 loss to Newcastle Knights in a scrappy affair at Panthers Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Despite a late try by Wayde Egan with both sides reduced to eleven men, there was no miracle comeback for the Panthers, whose position in the top-four is now under serious threat.
The Knights appeared to have scored the opening try in the 4th minute when Shaun Kenny-Dowall slid over at the end of a backline shift, but Sione Mata'utia's pass to the winger was ruled forward.
Poor discipline saw the Panthers trap themselves in their own half, and it didn't go unpunished as Aidan Guerra crashed over on a short side play in the 13th minute. Ken Sio's conversion attempt was waved away, and it remained 4-0 to the Knights.
Another penalty carried the Knights back into the red zone, where a deft Kalyn Ponga grubber was pounced on by Cory Denniss to double the Knights lead. Sio skewed the conversion attempt and the difference remained eight points after 19 minutes.
A deep kick by Nathan Cleary forced Nick Meaney to carry the football out from his own try line, and Corey Harawira-Naera's desperate chase forced a knock on by the fullback. Tyrone May was there to pick up the scraps and touch down, and Cleary's conversion made it 8-6 after 26 minutes.
The Panthers spilled the football shortly after the kick-off, and a quick shift of hands allowed Mata'utia to slice through a gap and over the line. Sio landed the goal in the 29th minute to reclaim the Knights' eight-point advantage.
Cleary forced a dropout to give the Panthers a chance to narrow the margin just before the interval, but the Knights repelled Penrith to maintain their 14-6 lead.
HALF-TIME: KNIGHTS 14 – PANTHERS 6
The Panthers returned to the second half looking much sharper, and quickly made their way deep into the Knights half. However, their best opportunity was extinguished in the 43rd minute when Viliame Kikau was cut down inches short of the try line.
Wayde Egan's introduction to the match inspired a march to the Knights goal-line, but it once again petered away as Tyrone Peachey's grubber to the in-goal dribbled dead in the 55th minute.
The Knights looked to put the result beyond reasonable doubt in the 64th minute when Mitchell Pearce delivered a short ball to Lachlan Fitzgibbon over the try line, but the second rower was crucially chopped down by Cleary and Dean Whare.
A set piece to the left wing did the job for the Knights however, with Ken Sio diving over in the corner. The winger then slotted the conversion to hand the Knights a comfortable 20-6 lead with 10 minutes remaining.
With 4 minutes remaining, a small tussle turned into an all-in brawl when Danny Levi and Shaun Kenny-Dowall threw punches, resulting in both being sin-binned. Tyrone May and Viliame Kikau also found themselves being sent to the sideline.
The Panthers capitalised on the extra room to move, shifting the ball frantically before Egan eventually wriggled his way over the stripe. Cleary kicked the goal, but it was mere consolation as the Knights came away with an eight-point victory.
FULL-TIME: KNIGHTS 20 – PANTHERS 12