For South Sydney, a perfect first half was undone by five minutes of madness.
The Bunnies took full advantage of a few fortunate bounces in their favour in the opening 35 minutes to lead 12-0, but conceded two tries off the back of forcing passes when they didn’t need to, as they watched their lead evaporate in the blink of an eye.
The second one in particular was brutal, as they fed a scrum with 40 seconds left, and a 12-6 lead, only for a raid down the right to result in an intercept try to Brian To’o, when perhaps settling for a field goal would have been more advisable.
Latrell Mitchell pictured looking dejected after full-time. (Getty)
“You can’t give them free tries, and that’s what we did,” coach Jason Demetriou told reporters.
Souths had combined some physical defence and enterprising attack with some fortunate Bunker interventions – but never looked likely after going into the sheds without a lead.
“I thought we did a great job first half for 35 minutes to put some pressure on them, but we weren’t able to maintain it,” Demetriou said.
“We’re 12-all at half-time, we’ve probably got to be a bit better than that,” he said of a flat second half which saw Penrith rack up 20 unanswered points.
While he acknowledged the absence of Tom Burgess and Siliva Havili were an issue in getting some forward punch, he conceded Penrith was simply too good.
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“Everyone has a plan, but to beat this team you’ve got to be able to stay at it for 80 minutes. You’ve got to be disciplined, you’ve got to be relentless, as relentless as they are, and we fell short in that area.”
Demetriou said it would take some time to process what was an up-and-down season, but ultimately a successful debut campaign for him.
But while in a vacuum it’s a positive year after losing Dane Gagai, Adam Reynolds and Jaydn Su’A, it’s the fifth year in a row that they’ve reached the third week of the finals – with only one grand final, and no premierships, to show for it.
“It doesn’t get any easier, coming up short every year – it probably gets harder, to be honest. I don’t have much words, just pretty disappointing,” captain Cameron Murray said.
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And in each of the last three years, it’s been the Panthers who’ve snuffed Souths’ hopes – two preliminary finals sandwiched either side of last year’s grand final.
“The competitor in me wants to hate Penrith, I really do, but the coach in me is so respectful of what they do,” Demetriou said.
“It’s a credit to (Panthers coach) Ivan (Cleary) and their club and what they’ve been able to produce for the last three years.
“They’re the benchmark and they’re going to be tough to beat next week.”
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