The Warriors' NRL finals dream turned into a nightmare when captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was carried off with a knee injury before Penrith ended their season with a 27-12 elimination final defeat in Sydney tonight.
Club icon Simon Mannering was denied a fairytale finish to his career with the Panthers' victory at ANZ Stadium sending him into retirement and spoiling the Warriors first playoff appearance in seven years.
Both Tuivasa-Sheck (ankle) and 301 game veteran Mannering (sternum) went into the match under an injury cloud and although the Auckland-based outfit led 12-2 early on, their hopes of continuing a historic title run ended after their inspirational fullback was carried off with a suspected medial knee strain 12 minutes before the break.
The Kiwi international's departure prompted a reshuffle with Peta Hiku filling in at fullback and Gerard Beale coming off the bench to slot in at right centre, but a try to five-eighth James Maloney and a double to right centre Tyrone Peachey gave Penrith an 18-12 halftime lead.
The Panthers set up camp on the Warriors line after the resumption and extended their lead with a fourth try to right wing Christian Crichton, before Maloney banged over a field goal at the end of the third quarter.
Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson had a mixed night with some nice touches early on but their chances of a comeback were dashed when his attempted short drop-out gifted Penrith No 7 Nathan Cleary a penalty goal from in front to give them 25 unanswered points.
The Warriors showed courage to defend for long periods but poor ball control and ill-discipline saw them struggle for territory and momentum while the Panthers were clinical in completing their sets with Maloney orchestrating play with a brilliant kicking display.
"We didn't give ourselves our best opportunity tonight," said coach Stephen Kearney.
"The Panthers kicked really well and had a number of repeat sets and Jimmy and Nathan kicked really well into the pockets and they built pressure on us that way.
"Our attack, mostly we were trying to come out of the backfield so it was pretty challenging in that sense."
Penrith opened the scoring off Cleary's boot but the Warriors hit back with off-contract hooker Issac Luke scoring their first try from dummy half and Johnson's conversion giving them a four point lead after 10 minutes.
A penalty helped the Warriors out of their half and their attack clicked into gear with front rower James Gavet offloading for Johnson who combined with Hiku before sending right wing David Fusitu'a in out wide as their lead grew to 12-2.
Things fell apart quickly however after an untimely error from senior forward Adam Blair with Maloney dragging Penrith back into the game with a 40-20 kick in the lead-up to Peachey's first try, before Luke sent the ball into touch from the restart to gift the them more attacking possession.
Penrith capitalised with Maloney backing up on the inside to run in their second four-pointer to give them a two-point advantage, before Peachey crossed for his second immediately following Tuivasa-Sheck's departure.
"We started the game pretty well but some fundamental errors through the middle part there just gifted them momentum to get back into the game," said Kearney.
"We stuck in there but just couldn't find any momentum after that and 25 unanswered points was too hard with scoreboard pressure."
The Warriors clung on defensively for five straight sets early in the second half but the pressure told with Crichton diving over out wide before Maloney's one-pointer and Cleary's fifth goal sealed the result.
Panthers 27 (Tyrone Peachey 2, James Maloney, Christian Crichton tries, cons, Nathan Cleary 3/4 cons, 2/2 pens, Maloney field goal)
Warriors 12 (Issac Luke, David Fusitu'a tries, Shaun Johnson 2/2 cons)