Penrith have scraped into the Telstra Premiership Finals but will need to improve out of sight next week after slumping to back-to-back losses with a 28-12 defeat to Manly on Saturday.
The visitors were simply blown away by Trent Barrett's side in all areas of the game and were forced to save their season at the backend with a 28-0 scoreline getting close to the 37-point margin they needed to avoid to cement their place in the top eight.
After a tense affair against the Dragons six days earlier, the Panthers struggled to get out of their own end were dominated up front.
"It wasn't good, we got out enthused, they were more physical and energetic for most of the night," Panthers coach Anthony Griffin said post-game.
"We paid the price and it wasn't a performance we're proud of.
"Everything they did for 60 minutes was faster and harder than what we were doing."
The Panthers had a 37-point for-and-against buffer in their favour after the Cowboys' loss to Brisbane on Friday night, but Griffin maintained he wanted the players to have the mentality of going into the clash needing victory.
"[The finals margin] was never mentioned coming into the game," Griffin said.
"We were always going to be in a sudden-death playoff if we got through tonight's game.
"We've got things to look at but I'm sure the players and whole group will be better than that next week."
Panthers skipper Peter Wallace admitted out on the paddock the team talk centred on defence in the final quarter of the game – an area the side have been strong at in 2017.
"We knew where we stood but we wanted a good performance going into next week no matter what," Wallace said.
"It was good how we fought back [but] we have to fix our start. [Manly] really jumped us."
Penrith have been rocked with speculation injured captain Matt Moylan was on the outer at the foot of the mountains, but Griffin was adamant the talk never had an impact on the side's performance.
Griffin refused to comment in-depth on the situation but indicated Moylan was no guarantee to line up for the must-win game next week as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury.
"I'm not [confident they'll play], they're (Moylan and Dylan Edwards) both in rehab," he said.
"I'm not going to make a comment on [Moylan situation].
"I meet with all my players and we'll deal with that in-house.
"It didn't [play] any part in our preparation."
Penrith will find out their finals opponents after the Dragons-Bulldogs clash on Sunday afternoon, with either a rematch with the Sea Eagles or a crunch game against the Cronulla Sharks on the cards for Griffin's men.