The Jersey Flegg Panthers have fallen short of a Grand Final berth after a late intercept try sealed a 28-16 defeat to South Sydney at Jubilee Oval on Saturday.
The Panthers had a chance to steal victory late, going close on a couple of occasions, but were turned away by a relentless Rabbitohs defence.
And it was on the final play of the game that sealed their fate as the Rabbitohs ran 80 metres to break Penrith’s hearts.
The Panthers struggled to build much pressure in the first half, with costly errors and rushed passes seeing them trail by 12 points at the break.
When they did have the ball in hand it was Matt Burton who looked the most dangerous in his return to the Flegg side, his running game in particular proving a handful for the South Sydney defence.
Charlie Staines, who was recently awarded both the Panthers and NSW Rugby League Jersey Flegg Player of the Year Award, was brilliant at the back diffusing a number of spiralling bombs.
Up front it was Terrell May and Alexander Myles providing consistently strong runs on the edges while skipper J’maine Hopgood impressed in the middle.
Souths winger Kane Allan nabbed an early double to hand his side a 10-0 advantage early in the first half.
The Panthers eventually hit back when Brendan Hands threw a deceptive pass out of dummy-half to put Jake Tago through a hole.
After getting themselves back into the grind, Penrith undid all their hard work when they gave Rabbitohs hooker Josh Cook an inch of room to slice over from close range.
Hands missed his only attempt at conversion.
HALF-TIME: Panthers 4 Rabbitohs 16
They fell further behind early in the second half when Souths broke through the middle and an exchanging of passes ended up with Peter Mamouzelos.
After threatening throughout the game with his footwork close to the line, Burton eventually stepped through to score and put the Panthers back in the contest with just under 20 minutes remaining.
Daine Laurie then turned a late offload from Burton into a points-scoring opportunity when he danced through the line and linked with Staines back inside.
Both conversions from Burton were successful, seeing Penrith trail by just one converted try with 13 minutes on the clock.
The Panthers had several opportunities to steal it late, a charging run from Myles bringing them into South Sydney territory.
Burton looked to have scored when he ran hard at the line and dived into the air, only to be crunched by desperate Rabbitohs defenders.
Penrith tried valiantly but a late intercept saw Souths run away to secure a spot in the grand final.
FULL-TIME: Panthers 16 Rabbitohs 28