Penrith’s NRL title hopes have taken a massive hit with an 18-16 loss to last-placed Cronulla in Bathurst in central western NSW.
In front of 8824 fans at Carrington Park, the Panthers’ credentials as a top-four side were brought into question on Saturday when they slumped to their second straight loss.
Former NSW State of Origin prop Andrew Fifita starred for the Sharks, running 237 metres, making 20 hit-ups, 24 tackles and setting up the deciding try.
It was the Sharks’ third triumph against top-eight sides in their past five rounds, following on from comeback wins over Brisbane and the Sydney Roosters.
On the back of several repeat sets, the Sharks took a 6-0 lead after 10 minutes when Jacob Gagan leapt high to grab a Jeff Robson bomb.
The Panthers suffered an injury scare when halfback Peter Wallace, in his first game back from a stint on the sidelines, left the field in the 15th minute.
He went up the tunnel after reeling out of a Sam Tagatese hit, clutching at the same right knee which had ruled him out for the previous two matches, but he returned soon after.
The Panthers reduced the deficit to two when Dallin Watene-Zelezniak went over but Sharks fullback Michael Gordon pulled the momentum back in his side’s favour when he crossed.
Five minutes later, Gordon broke open the line to set up Gagan’s second. However, the fortunes of the Sharks’ No.1 quickly reversed when he knocked on on his own tryline with the Panthers scoring from the next set through Kevin Naiqaima.
The Sharks took a 14-10 lead into halftime, however the Panthers took the lead through a Dean Whare try and a Jamie Soward sideline conversion 11 minutes after the resumption.
Fifita came up with the decisive play when he sliced through some weak defence to put his front-row partner Tagatese over and the Sharks toughed out a tense final 20 minutes.