Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
Panthers centre Stephen Crichton was a handful for the Warriors to contain.
The Warriors have gone down 18-12 to the Panthers at Central Coast Stadium on Friday night.
Despite the loss, it was a gutsy performance from the Warriors against the table topping Panthers, withstanding an incredible amount of pressure for nearly all of the first half.
The Panthers had won their previous eight games and over the past two months they have clearly been the best team in the NRL.
At this point of the season most pundits were expecting the Warriors to be getting thrashed each week and morale going through the floor.
* Ivan Cleary backs Warriors’ plan to become a development club again
* Warriors captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck not looking to quit club for Blues
* Tohu Harris reveals Roger Tuivasa-Sheck addressed Warriors over Blues rumours
But Todd Payten has shown why he’s regarded as a coach with a bright future, raising standards inside the team and recently getting the team playing their best footy of the season.
A win over the Panthers would have made a huge statement about the quality of this team and their prospects of finishing in the top eight.
While this defeat is a step back in the Warriors’ hunt for a place in the top half of the ladder, at least their two games against the Panthers this season are behind them.
This result was similar to the Warriors’ 18-10 loss to the Roosters a few weeks ago.
They played with plenty of commitment and energy, but just didn’t have the class to match the Panthers over 80 minutes.
Put the Warriors up against other mid table teams and they’ll have a chance, but against the better NRL teams they can’t quite match them.
The Panthers dominated early on, with Nathan Cleary’s kicking pinning the Warriors on their goal line.
The Warriors only had the ball for 57 seconds of the first 10 minutes and eventually all of that pressure counted, with Brent Naden catching a looping pass from Cleary on the right edge to jog in untouched.
In the 20th minute Roger Tuivasa-Sheck held up James Fisher-Harris over the line to stop the Panthers scoring their second try.
But five minutes later the Panthers did have their second four-pointer as hooker Api Koroisau ducked under the arm of Lachlan Burr to start a break and 15 metres later was over the line.
With five minutes to go in the half the Panthers extended their lead as Dylan Edwards got on the end of a grubber from Josh Mansour for a third try.
Cleary’s conversion made the score 16-0, with the Panthers looking out of sight.
But in the last few seconds of the half, Kodi Nikorima put up a high, probing kick which Tuivasa-Sheck latched onto, twisted around midair and grounded the ball for a try.
The second half was tight, but 17 minutes into it Peta Hiku threw a wonderful no-look pass to Patrick Herbert to set him up for the Warriors’ second try.
Five minutes later Nathan Cleary made the score 18-12 in the Panthers’ favour through a penalty.
With six minutes to go it looked as if the Warriors had another try, but Adam Pompey threw a poor pass to George Jennings, with the try line beckoning.
That was as close as either side got to scoring over the remainder of the game, so the Panthers were able to extend their winning streak to nine games.
AT A GLANCE
Warriors 12 (Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Patrick Herbert tries; Patrick Herbert 2 goals,) Panthers 18 (Nathan Cleary, Api Koroisau tries; Cleary 2 goals) HT: 6-16