Defending champions Penrith took a giant step towards a premiership three-peat with a 32-6 win over the Warriors at BlueBet Stadium on Saturday.
With James Fisher-Harris laying the line for superstar Nathan Cleary to take control of proceedings, the Panthers had the match well in hand when they led 20-0 at half-time.
Penrith struck the first blow in the fifth minute when Cleary went to the line and found prop Moses Leota who sent a perfectly timed long pass out to Brian To’o for his 18th try of the season. Cleary converted for a 6-0 lead.
Three minutes later a mistake by Isaah Yeo handed the Warriors a chance and Dylan Walker crossed wide out but the try was ruled out due to obstruction in the lead-up by Adam Pompey.
A slashing run by Dylan Edwards had the Warriors’ defence stretched again but Cleary came up with a dropped ball and the opportunity went begging.
Midway through the half the Warriors turned the ball over deep in their own territory and the Panthers made them pay when Liam Martin ran into a hole off a Cleary pass and the premiers led 12-0.
Some slick hands from Jack Cogger and Stephen Crichton on the left edge sent Sunia Turuva on his way and the Panthers had raced to an 18-0 lead.
The Warriors then showed plenty of resilience to hold out a number of sets on their own tryline but a late penalty against Pompey for crowding in the ruck gave Cleary a shot at penalty goal and the half-time score was 20-0.
A dropped ball by Yeo gave the Warriors an early chance in the second half but it came to nothing after a poor pass out of dummy half by Wayde Egan.
Two crusher tackle penalties against Tohu Harris and Walker in quick succession consigned the Warriors to more defence but they hung on and took the ball to the other end where Egan finished off great lead-up work by Rocco Berry and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to score in the 57th minute.
Any hopes of a Warriors comeback were quickly snuffed out when the Panthers’ left side clicked into gear and Turuva finished the movement to make it 26-6 with Cleary’s conversion.
From 25 metres out Cleary then bamboozled the Warriors defence and grabbed a try of his own as the Panthers marched to their seventh consecutive win in finals matches.
In contrast the Warriors have not won a finals match since 2011 and will be desperate for their star playmaker Shaun Johnson to return from a calf injury for next week’s home final against the winner of Sunday’s Knights-Raiders game.