The Tarsha Gale Panthers side couldn’t contain Jamie Chapman as the Sharks fullback scored three tries in a tense 18-12 loss at HE Laybutt Field on Saturday.
Heading into the must-win final following back-to-back heavy defeats, it was an improved defensive performance from the Panthers.
But they fell short in the end and their season came to a close after the six-point defeat.
A strong run from Reshaun Vaughan brought the Panthers into striking range early against Cronulla but they couldn’t capitalise, Madison Gaal almost crashing over only to be held up over the line.
And they were made to pay as the Sharks quickly capitalised when Penrith failed to clean up a kick, fullback Jamie Chapman steaming onto the ball to score the first try.
She converted her own try to push Cronulla’s lead out to six.
While more accustomed to dominating the highlights reel in attack, Teagan Toa-Toa starred in defence early, chasing down a runaway Shark before coming up with a pressure tackle on the following play to force the ball loose.
And it saw momentum shift as Vaughan again surged upfield before Emelia Kaafi crossed over out wide to reduce the deficit to two.
Vaughan continued to impress, next coming up with a crucial tackle on Kelly Gilmour who threaten to score after splitting the Panthers through the middle.
20-MINUTE BREAK: Panthers 4 Sharks 6
Chapman posed a constant danger for the Penrith defence and when given the ball in broken play she kicked through for herself and was certain to score, only for the desperate Panthers to deny her second of the morning.
There were close calls aplenty as Hope Tevaga fumbled the ball with the try line in sight, the score remaining 6-4 after 28 minutes.
But having threatened to do so all game, Chapman sliced through again to push Cronulla’s lead out to six.
The Panthers would continue to rue missed opportunities, this time Suresa-Moana Enese dropping it over the line. They eventually capitalised though, with Lavinia Taiseni going over out wide in the 37th minute.
The conversion was waved away, leaving the deficit at two points again heading into the break.
40-MINUTE BREAK: Panthers 8 Sharks 10
Chapman was at it again moments after the break when she beat the initial attempt at tackle before racing 80 metres to score her third.
Justyce Cleverly responded with an 80-metre dash of her own, handing Penrith a full set on Cronulla’s line. And the hooker almost scored, losing the ball in the dying moments as she went to ground the ball next to the posts.
Jessika Lealaiauloto eventually dived over out wide for the Panthers but another missed conversion meant they would still trail heading into the final ten minutes.
Cronulla scored again through Gilmour and it was enough to seal the win for the Sharks.
FULL-TIME: Panthers 12 Sharks 18