After experiencing his first loss in over two months, Panthers coach Ivan Cleary refused to blame an injury to five-eighth Jamie Soward, saying his side handed victory to the Warriors on a platter on Sunday.
Despite enjoying a 16-12 lead at halftime, the Panthers collapsed in the second period and were outscored 18 points to four in the second half as they went on to lose 30-20 at Mount Smart Stadium.
On top of that they produced a total of eight errors, conceded 11 penalties and had a completion rate of only 67 per cent.
“At the end of the day we probably contributed to their victory,” a deflated Cleary said at fulltime.
“I don’t know how many penalties they got coming off their own line…and they scored two tries when we had the ball.”
Captain Peter Wallace echoed his coach’s thoughts, pointing to a sustained period of pressure to start the second half, which ultimately cost them any chance of a sixth straight victory.
“We piggybacked them out of their end,” said Wallace who spent the final seconds of the game in the sin bin for a tackle off the ball.
“They didn’t have to do a lot of work coming out of their end.
“They were attacking our line most of the start of the second half and that probably won them the game.”
The Panthers had fought back from an early 12-0 deficit to lead at the break, and were playing the better football, enjoying 58 per cent possession and causing countless headaches for the Warriors with their swift passing and offload game.
“We definitely prepared for that [type of battle], the effort was good but we didn’t start very well,” Cleary said.
“The way we played the second part of the first half was pretty much exactly how we wanted to play and then we came out in the second half and we couldn’t build any pressure.”
The loss of five-eighth Jamie Soward just before halftime was telling, as the Panthers failed to produce that same attack in the second period.
Prior to going down with a leg injury, which came after being twisted awkwardly in a tackle, Soward had scored a try, kicked two goals and was troubling the Warriors with his support play around offloads.
“It definitely made a difference [losing Soward], but I can’t honestly say it affected us that much,” Cleary said.
“Obviously it would have been handy to have him out there to give Peter another option with our kicking game, but you just have to deal with those sort of things,” Cleary said while not offering too much in regards to the seriousness of the injury.
“I am not too sure, we are going to have to go through the scan process, but obviously that was a big blow for us.”
While the Panthers will remain near the top of the ladder, dealing with a loss after a prolonged period of success does present them with a challenge heading into next week’s clash with the Wests Tigers, who came up with a gritty 19-18 win over Canberra on Saturday night.