A late comeback fell just short for the Panthers Jersey Flegg side in a 22-20 defeat to St George-Illawarra Dragons at Panthers Stadium on Saturday.
The Panthers trailed 22-10 with 12 minutes remaining before tries to Brendan Hands and Charlie Staines made it a two-point game.
However, the Panthers’ failure to capitalise on their chances and some poor kicking options caught up to them, and the Dragons came away with a narrow win.
After the Panthers’ kick-off went out on the full, Dragons halfback Blair Grant drove a grubber into the upright, putting it on a plate for prop Eddie Blacker to score a 2nd-minute opener.
Daine Laurie crafted the Panthers’ response in the 7th minute with a 30-metre spectacle. The fleet-footed fullback slipped away from numerous defenders en route to the try line, and Stephen Crichton’s conversion drew the Panthers level.
Crichton edged the Panthers ahead in the 15th minute, holding up the ball long enough to slide over after a shift to the short side, making it 10-6.
Second-rower Luke Gale singlehandedly restored the Dragons’ lead, scoring from close range and then converting to make it 12-10 after 25 minutes.
Winger Matthew Faauila looked to put the Panthers back ahead when he grubbered through for himself on the stroke of halftime, but the Dragons shielded it dead.
HALF-TIME: DRAGONS 12 – PANTHERS 10
A grubber in behind the Panthers defence took an awful bounce for Laurie in the 42nd minute, and it sat up for Dragons centre Jiye Ellis to score, extending the visitors' lead to 16-10.
Laurie nearly made amends for his slip-up when he swept around the back in the 46th minute, but he was cut down inches short of the line.
The Panthers began to look threatening but found themselves 22-10 behind in the 54th minute when Matt Delblanco capitalised on an error at the back by Penrith.
That deficit was cut down to 22-16 with 12 minutes remaining when Brendan Hands took on the line to score and Crichton added the extras.
The Panthers rolled upfield from the kick-off, and some excellent kick pressure from Crichton saw a bomb hit the deck, paving the way for Charlie Staines to score. Crichton was unable to equalise with the sideline conversion, and it remained 22-20 with 10 minutes remaining.
Centre Thomas Lofts found Hands in support on a last-tackle line break in the 66th minute, but the Dragons mowed down the Panthers halfback from behind to maintain their lead.
The Panthers had a few late chances, but the Dragons hung on to come away with a two-point victory.
FULL-TIME: DRAGONS 22 – PANTHERS 20