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The Warriors’ Round 3 shutout of the Dragons will forever hold a somewhat special place in the club’s narrative. But the sparkle of it was considerably dulled – and any fanciful thoughts of a dream finals charge severely dented – by a heavy 26-0 loss to a rampant Penrith Panthers side at Campbelltown Stadium.

Kick errors on attack and defence allowed the Panthers to build a 16-0 lead, and while it was a positive the scoreline did not blow out any further than it did in the second stanza given the hosts’ physical dominance, the Warriors never really looked like posting points themselves in a harrowing reality check.

Undefeated Penrith – far from perfect across the 80 minutes – was too big, too fast and too inventive for a Warriors side whose limitations were put on the rack and under the microscope.

The late withdrawal of Ken Maumalo on top of the injury to Peta Hiku and ongoing unavailability of David Fusitu’a left the Warriors’ backline bereft of strike, while the only other first-choice three-quarter, Patrick Herbert, had an absolute nightmare under the high ball.

But the primary factor was the engine-room advantage the Warriors enjoyed last week was not there, contributing to the incompetence, and lack of inventiveness and authority of the spine being brutally exposed. The current positions of Wayde Egan, Blake Green and Kodi Nikorima should be under strenuous scrutiny before Team List Tuesday.

Last-tackle options got worse as the game wore on for the Warriors. The Panthers’ 100 percent kick defusal to the visitors’ 47 percent was one of the most telling stats of the night, along with the Panthers’ 58 percent possession count and a penalty count that at one stage was 5-1 against the Warriors.

The Nathan Cleary-less Panthers had flat patches that could have let the Warriors back into the game, but they weren’t good enough to come anywhere near taking those opportunities.

The Warriors weathered the Panthers’ fast, high-intensity start and held their own, though unimaginative last-tackle options stymied their own early chances.

The Panthers hit the scoreboard in the 12th minute through impressive third-gamer Matt Burton on the back of a dubious penalty, the five-eighth picking up the scraps and dotting down after Patrick Herbert overshot a Jarome Luai bomb.

But the Warriors backed up more ill-discipline with superb defence, repelling 15 straight Panthers plays from the ensuing restart.

The concern, however, was how comfortably Penrith was making metres with the ball – and limiting them without it – in the middle of the park.

The Panthers extended their advantage 17 minutes out from halftime after a horror play from Blake Green. The veteran drilled a low last-tackle kick from halfway straight the legs of Burton, who again scooped up the loose ball and sprinted away for his second.

Stephen Crichton pulled the conversion from the sideline, leaving the score at 10-0.

The Warriors’ defence – particularly inside their own 20 – was excellent throughout the first half. But penalties mounted against them, 50/50 calls weren’t going their way – and the Panthers landed a massive blow inside the last five minutes before the break.

Herbert was again the villain as a Burton bomb cannoned off his chest despite having all the time in the world. Luai cleverly grubber-and-chased his way through the stretched Warriors defence to score the home side’s third.

Fortunately, another vertigo-like attempt at catching a high ball from Herbert just before halftime went unpunished. But at 16-0 down, the Warriors were back to the brutal reality of week-to-week NRL footy.

The defensive commitment of the first half deserted the Warriors immediately after the resumption. A bad miss by Kodi Nikorima and Eliesa Katoa saw Moses Leota power into Warriors territory, before a spectacular sweep to the left flank provided a saloon passage for Josh Mansour to end an 18-match tryscoring drought.

The Warriors could have imploded badly – particularly as everything they tried with the ball became less and less effective – but they showed admirable spirit under fire.

But the dams finally burst again in the 65th minute after yet another penalty, Burton serving up a beautiful ball for fellow newcomer Billy Burns to steam through for his third try in four NRL games.

A sensational effort to get off the donut inside the last 10 minutes was cruelled when Herbert was judged to have clipped the touch in-goal line as he brilliantly forced a Roger Tuivasa-Sheck keep deep in the Penrith in-goal.

The positive, again, was there was no further damage on the scoreboard. But there was little question about the scale of the rout.

The Warriors will be sweating on the return of Maumalo, Hiku and Fusitu’a. But the possibility of resurrecting a 1-3 start and staying in the Top 8 mix of a shortened season could rest on Stephen Kearney’s willingness to make some tough calls around the halves and hooker area – not a strong suit during his time at the club.

An emphatically beaten side’s best on the night were Tohu Harris, loan player and Warrior #245 Poasa Faamausili, and to a lesser extent late call-ups Adam Pompey and Hayze Perham.

Penrith Panthers 26 (Matt Burton 2Jarome Luai, Josh Mansour, Billy Burns tries; Stephen Crichton 3 goals)ย defeated Warriors 0 at Campbelltown Stadium




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