Penrith grabbed an early lead and stayed ahead throughout to beat an under-strength Vodafone Warriors side 36-20 in tonight's week one Intrust Super Premiership finals clash at UOW Oval on Sydney.
Ata Hingano, Mason Lino, Isaiah Papali'i, Charlie Gubb, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Jazz Tevaga were all on NRL duty with injuries biting into the club's playing resources.
With a reshuffle line-up, the Ricky Henry-coached Vodafone Warriors conceded two early tries to fall 0-10 behind, recovered to 8-10 and later to 14-24 but couldn't make up the leeway as the Panthers prevailed to advance to week three of the finals.
The second-placed Vodafone Warriors have a second life, though, and will face Newcastle next week as they look to stay alive. They'll also have their full complement of eligible players available including the sextet on NRL duty tonight.
In tonight's playoff, Tony Satini got the Panthers on their way in the first minute of play, strolling through would-be Vodafone Warriors tacklers to cross for the opener.
Prolific try-scorer Maiko Sivo followed suit with halfback Darren Nicholls making amends for his earlier miss on goal with a successful conversion attempt at the second time of asking.
Down by 10 points early, the travelling ‘hosts’ rallied to score their first four-pointer through outside back Matt Allwood before nippy pivot Sam Cook sliced through on the short side to draw the Vodafone Warriors back to within two points.
Wayward shots on goal from the kicking tee ensured the Vodafone Warriors stayed behind despite the sides scoring two tries a piece.
Back-to-back tries to Christian Crichton (33rd minute) and Satini (39th minute) before the halftime siren ensured the Panthers took a healthy 12-point lead into the sheds and, despite some Vodafone Warriors resistance, set the tone for much of the play of the second period.
Jed Cartwright’s try just two minutes after the resumption of play maintained Penrith’s momentum at the change of end, as the tough-to-tackle outside back somehow found his way to the line.
A runaway four-pointer to Zac Santo gave some hope to the New Zealand side in its quest to turn around the deficit but their efforts proved in vain as the Panthers again stamped their authority.
A light-stepping run from Penrith’s five-eighth Jarome Luai saw the nippy half go in for the side’s sixth try, with Nicholls slotting his third conversion of the afternoon from the ensuing shot on goal.
Just as Satini bagged his brace inside the first-half Luai brought up his double as he streaked away to score untouched.
To their credit, the Vodafone Warriors played through until the final moments of the match, crossing for a late consolation try to Ligi Sao to bring the concluding margin back to 16.
The Panthers join the Wyong Roos with a direct ticket through to the preliminary finals after the minor premiers accounted for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 34-26 on Saturday at Allianz Stadium.
UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah
Vodafone Warriors 20 (Matt Allwood, Sam Cook, Zac Santo, Ligi Sao tries; Junior Pauga 2 conversions).
Penrith Panthers 36 (Tony Satini 2, Jarome Luai 2, Maika Sivo, Christian Crichton, Jed Cartwright tries; Darren Nicholls 4 conversions).
Halftime: 20-8 Panthers.
Vodafone Warriors | Zac Santo; Semisi Fotu, Matt Allwood, Junior Pauga, Bureta Faraimo; Sam Cook, Kane Telea; Pat Sipley, James Bell (c), Ligi Sao; Ofahiki Ogden, Daniel Palavi; King Vuniyayawa. Interchange: Manaia Cherrington, Toafofoa Sipley, Chris Satae, Albert Vete.