The NRL finals teams could already be set after Penrith’s top eight hopes took a battering in their 42-14 flogging at the hands of South Sydney on Sunday.
A four-point chasm has opened up between eighth-placed Parramatta and a logjam of three sides – the Panthers, Warriors and Rabbitohs – on 16 points.
The Panthers were thumped by an Alex Johnston-led Rabbitohs and face having to win six of their final nine games to make the eight.
Not only has all the wind been taken from their sails, after winning four straight between rounds 10 and 14, it leaves them with little margin for error in the run home.
Canberra (14 points, 12th), the Panthers and Warriors all went into the weekend with a golden chance to close the gap on the top eight but ended round 17 with their wheels wobbling.
“It’s not nice obviously,” Panthers coach Anthony Griffin said.
“I thought our first 30 minutes we were going along okay.
“Once we let in that intercept try, they got a lot of ball and field position and the pressure they put on us on the last play we just didn’t shut it down.
“If that loss takes away some momentum, we’ve got to find it back.”
Meanwhile on Sunday the Wests Tigers held off a Newcastle second-half fightback to claim a 33-12 win and consign the Knights to last place on the ladder once again.
North Queensland once again proved they were ready for the post-Johnathan Thurston era as Michael Morgan led them to a 31-18 victory in sub-zero temperatures against the Raiders.
Daly Cherry-Evans once again put his hand up for a Queensland State of Origin recall with a standout effort in Manly’s 26-22 triumph over the Warriors.
Cronulla put in one of the most dominant team performances of the year as they belted the Sydney Roosters 44-12 on the Central Coast.
Melbourne reinforced their status as the premiership favourites with a 42-12 rout of Brisbane to continue their dominance of Wayne Bennett’s team.
Anthony Don crossed for a hat-trick as the Gold Coast threw a spur in the wheel of St George Illawarra’s run to the finals with a 20-10 victory.
Mitchell Moses kicked a golden point field goal as Parramatta ran out 13-12 winners over Canterbury.