The Panthers fell to a disappointing 36-16 loss to top 8 rivals New Zealand Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium on Friday.
Ill-discipline and poor goal line defence were the name of the game for the Panthers, who slid to sixth on the premiership table on for-and-against.
Before the Panthers had even touched the football, the Warriors led 8-0. A Shaun Johnson penalty goal opened the scoring, before Agnatius Paasi pounced from dummy half next to the uprights in the 6th minute.
Adam Blair appealed for the Warriors second try in the 14th minute when he picked up the scraps of a spilled bomb. However, the Bunker denied the hosts as Solomone Kata tackled Christian Crichton in the air.
After the Panthers spilled the football over the try line, the Warriors marched upfield and extended their lead as David Fusitu'a crossed in the corner at the end of a set piece. Johnson's goal attempt struck the upright, and it remained 12-0 after 24 minutes.
The Warriors continued to thrive on the Panthers ill-discipline, as Mason Lino slipped away from a tackle and slid over in the 27th minute. Johnson landed the goal and extended the lead to 18-0.
Had the first half not been treacherous enough for the Panthers, they were dealt another blow in the 28th minute as Dean Whare left the field injured. Tyrone Peachey shifted to centre, with Tyrone May entering the fray at five-eighth.
A long-awaited stroke of luck helped the Panthers open their account in the 36th minute, as a Waqa Blake grubber in behind the defence took a pair of wicked deflections and sat up perfectly for Josh Mansour over the try line. Cleary's sideline conversion was off the mark, and it remained 18-4 heading into the sheds.
HALF-TIME: WARRIORS 18 – PANTHERS 4
The Warriors quickly resumed business as usual however, with Fusitu'a strolling over for his second try in the 42nd minute after the Panthers failed to defuse a bomb. Johnson split the posts in half to widen the gap to 20 points.
The Panthers looked to claw themselves back into the contest in the 54th minute when Cleary chipped over the Warriors goal line defence with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak chasing through, but the fullback couldn't reach the try line and knocked on.
Johnson then put the Panthers slim hopes beyond reasonable doubt in the 57th minute, blitzing the defence flinging the ball inside for Fusitu'a to bag his hat-trick. The halfback's conversion attempt hung wide, and the score remained 28-4.
Another Panthers penalty in the 61st minute allowed Johnson to knock over a penalty goal and stretch the margin beyond four converted tries.
The miserable performance hit a new low in the 67th minute when the Warriors slid right, and Solomone Kata dived over. Johnson nailed another conversion to make it 36-4.
A pair of offloads by Trent Merrin and Reagan Campbell-Gillard gave Waqa Blake a small passage to work with on the flank, and the centre powered through the defence to find the turf. Cleary steered the football between the posts to close the deficit to 26 points with 9 minutes remaining.
Cleary forced a dropout after a strong set from the kick off, and Wayde Egan's short ball to Merrin allowed the prop to slam the ball down in the 73rd minute. Cleary's conversion was the last score of the match, and it ended in a 20-point loss to the Panthers.
FULL-TIME: WARRIORS 36 – PANTHERS 16