An inexperienced Panthers outfit was bundled out of the Canterbury Cup finals with a 34-16 defeat to Wentworthville Magpies at Campbelltown Stadium on Saturday.
The Panthers side featured six Jersey Flegg players who were called upon due to the mounting injury toll in the senior grades, including the loss of Sam McKendry (knee) and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak (ribs) in the days before the game.
In the end the lack of cohesion was telling against a Magpies side featuring an abundance of NRL experience.
The Panthers opened the scoring in the 12th minute as Hame Sele delivered a late offload which opened up gaps in the Wentworthville defence. Frank Winterstein was the beneficiary as he charged through a gap to score. The conversion attempt from Brendan Hands was on target and the Panthers led 6-0.
The Magpies hit back eight minutes later they found space on the left edge and a linebreak was finished off by fullback Josh Hoffman. Halfback Rhys Davies knocked the conversion over to lock the game up at 6-6.
They took the lead in the 24th minute as winger Greg Leleisiuao, cutting back in the middle of the field, ducked to avoid some attempted tackles and went straight through to score beside the posts. The successful conversion put Wentworthville ahead 12-6.
The Magpies extended their lead to 18-6 six minutes later as prop Oregon Kaufusi crashed over from close range and Davies kicked the simple conversion. Replays later showed the referee had lost count and given Wentworthville an extra tackle in the set, which they scored from.
More pain for the Panthers was to come on the stroke of half-time as five-eighth Will Smith fooled the defence with a simple step and went through to score.
HALF-TIME – Panthers 6 – 22 Magpies
The break failed to change the momentum of the contest and Wentworthville scored again in the 44th minute. Smith won the race to a bouncing ball to bag his second try of the game. The conversion attempt was waved away but the Magpies led 26-6.
The Panthers fans in attendance, including the NRL squad, finally got something to cheer ten minutes later as a fortuitous bounce allowed centre Shannon Harris to dive over.
A penalty goal put the Magpies out to a 28-10 lead but the Panthers regained possession from the ensuing kick-off and struck immediately.
With some deceptive play out of dummy half, hooker Sione Katoa hit Kaide Ellis with a short ball and the captain crashed over in the tackle. Hands was on target with the conversion to make the score 28-16 with 14 minutes left on the clock.
The Panthers went chasing quick points but could only find errors and frantic kicking options as time became the enemy.
The Magpies had the final say as hooker Matt McIlwrick broke clear and found Hoffman in support to score his second try of the game.
FULL-TIME - Panthers 16 - 34 Magpies