Penrith put a dampener on the Vodafone Warriors' plans to give club great Manu Vatuvei an ideal farewell in tonight's 19th-round NRL clash Mount Smart Stadium.
While the home side started well and had the lead three times in the match, the Panthers came from 18-22 down to take out the encounter 34-22 to consolidate their position in the top eight.
Emotions were running high before kick-off, many Vodafone Warriors players visibly teary-eyed as they ran out through a huge guard of honour for the departing Vatuvei.
And then the man himself, tears streaming down his face, walked onto his favourite playing ground as a Vodafone Warrior for the last time, flanked by wife Jen and their four daughters. The ovation continued as Vatuvei walked towards the West Stand.
His team-mates needed to switch on immediately after the prolonged walk-out - and they did.
Lovely ball work between Simon Mannering, Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson put Mannering in for his 61st career try after just two minutes, Mannering juggling Johnson's pass as he headed to the line.
The Panthers responded in kind after 13 minutes through New Zealander Corey Harawira-Naera with Nathan Cleary converting to level to score-line up at 6-6.
Only four minutes later, the Vodafone Warriors were back in front as they threatened down their left. A quick play the ball gave returning centre Solomone Kata just the opportunity he needed as he scooted out of dummy half and drove over low for his 29th career try.
The second quarter belonged to the Panthers, Cleary a key influence as their high-tempo, high-speed football began to have an impact. Off loads provided a try for young standoff Tyrone May in the 25th minute and not long after Cleary scythed through the line to score. With both converted Penrith had an 18-12 lead with halftime looming.
Late in the spell the Vodafone Warriors went over with left wing Ken Maumalo brilliantly picking up a low offload from Tuivasa-Sheck. Referee Gavin Reynolds sent it to the bunker as a try only for it to be overturned on the basis Maumalo was adjudged to have knocked on as he swept the ball up off the ground.
In the dying seconds there was another opening, Johnson making a break as he swept around from the left before being grassed, enabling the visitors to go to the sheds six points ahead.
Patience and composure were needed starting the second half, qualities the Vodafone Warriors displayed initially while Penrith erred with two errors before conceding back-to-back penalties.
From the second of them Harawira-Naeara was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul, his absence bringing an immediate change to the shape of the contest as the Vodafone Warriors worked a lovely left edge play for Kata to go over for his second try. It was referred as a try for checking, the bunker having a look at possible obstruction before green lighting the try.
No conversion but the 16-18 deficit became a 22-18 lead after 53 minutes as the Vodafone Warriors again made the most of Penrith being a man short.
A brilliant left-to-right shift gave centre Blake Ayshford the chance to breach the line before he passed back inside for Bodene Thompson to score. This time Issac Luke stepped up for the conversion.
A Luke break and a kick back inside should have delivered another try but replacement forward Ligi Sao was ruled to have knocked on as he collected and rolled over the line.
There was also a critical injury setback for the home side at the same time, In the lead-up, Johnson went down for treatment for a knee injury and was helped off the field to be replaced by Ata Hingano.
Instead of being eight or 10 points ahead, the Vodafone Warriors were again behind on the scoreboard in ther 67th minute as Penrith broke through the middle to lay on a second try for Cleary. His conversion made it 24-22 heading into the last 10 minutes.
Any hope of victory evaporated as first Cleary caught defenders out for his third of the night and then centre Waqa Blake scored from an uncontested kick to take Penrith to a 34-22 advantage.
The result would have been disappointing in any circumstances but all the more so on a night when the club, members and fans were aiming to send off club favourite Vatuvei in the appropriate manner. He deserved a better farewell present.
To compound the mood, head coach Stephen Kearney later confirmed Johnson's knee injury was serious, indicating the Vodafone Warriors face an extended period without their leading playmaker.
'Manu Vatuvei' Stadium, Auckland
Vodafone Warriors 22 (Solomone Kata 2, Simon Mannering, Bodene Thompson tries; Shaun Johnson 2 conversions; Issac Luke conversion).
Penrith Panthers 34 (Nathan Cleary 3, Corey Harawira-Naera, Tyrone May, Waqa Blake tries; Nathan Cleary 5 conversions).
Halftime: 18-12 Penrith.
Referees: Gavin Reynolds and Alan Shortall.
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c); David Fusitu'a, Blake Ayshford, Solomone Kata, Ken Maumalo; Mafoa'aeata Hingano, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Issac Luke, Ben Matulino; Bodene Thompson, Bunty Afoa; Simon Mannering. Interchange: Mafoa'aeata Hingano, Sam Lisone, James Gavet, Ligi Sao.