The Penrith Panthers have bowed out one week short of the grand final after an impressive season.

Half-time the 'worst thing' for Penrith

A despondent Panthers captain Jamie Soward lamented a 'stop-start' performance from his side against the Bulldogs on Saturday with the half-time break coming right as they started to build momentum for the only time in the match.

Following his side's narrow 18-12 preliminary final loss to a resilient Bulldogs outfit, Soward said half-time was "probably the worst thing for us" after going 12-0 down then scoring late in the half as the team finally built some momentum after a sluggish start.

"We started getting some possession down there, Moysy [fullback Matt Moylan] crossed, I thought from that moment we started to get in a rhythm but then half-time come, probably stopped us a little bit. A lot of penalties, a lot of stop-starty stuff."

His coach Ivan Cleary said he thought his charges had the better of a second half that finished 6-all, included plenty of chances they failed to convert into points.

"We just couldn't quite get in a rhythm with our attack the whole night. The best moment was just on half-time and then we had half-time. Lots of close calls. The Bulldogs' defence was good," Cleary said.

The fighting 80-minute effort, which continued right up to a last attacking raid with a penalty after the final siren, was typical of the team's season, Cleary added.

"We were behind pretty much all game," he said. "We were there throwing punches, so to speak, right to the death. That's typical of this team; I'm very proud of their effort all the way through the year and it was there again tonight. It was just not quite our time yet."

Asked whether he felt his side had a sniff with the 'Dogs losing hooker and captain Michael Ennis to injury at half-time, and with halfback Trent Hodkinson looking troubled by a knee injury, the coach simply said "that's football".

"These types of games, I guess you try and take any advantage you can," he said.

"I thought we had the running for most of the second half. The try we conceded was a long range break from them from a turnover from us so apart from that we were coming to get them but the fact they kept their noses in front for most of the time was enough to be able to hang on.

"We'll probably look back and we'd like to be a little bit more composed at various stages – it just wasn't to be."

Cleary said he felt his side was in it all the way but just couldn't quite find the rhythm they wanted. 

"It was very stop start-ish and the ruck was so slow. It was just hard to build any sort of momentum, both sides would probably say that."

Soward also found time to laugh off his running verbal battle with Canterbury's in-form English prop James Graham, who looked close to losing his temper a few times but was undeniably one of his team's best all night for the third week straight.

"I couldn't understand him," Soward shrugged when asked what was said between himself and the northern Enlgishman.

"He's a fantastic player, and probably the best prop in the NRL. I didn't really hear him or understand what he said. I just wish him luck next week."