Dreams die hard.

It had been 2533 days since the Warriors last appeared in finals football and it will be at least another year before they do so again.

In the coming days, the realisation of what they have achieved in 2018, from a starting point way back on the rest of the field, will sink in but that won't be much consolation tomorrow morning.

This 27-12 defeat was a crusher. The first quarter was impressive but not much went right from there.

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There was nothing wrong with the effort, grit, or courage but too many players couldn't step up. On a night when most Warriors needed to have the game of their lives, hardly any did. Shaun Johnson had a quiet night and his performance will be under the microscope tomorrow. The halfback didn't have a platform to work off but looked out of sorts from the start when he failed to finish an intercept opportunity. For most of the Warriors players, the game would have gone by in a blur.

They barely fired a shot in the second half and couldn't get their key attacking weapons in the match.

And Penrith, it must be said, were superb. They were clinical, composed and cut-throat, reminding of why they were rated among the Premiership favourites at the start of the season before their dramas since.

Their first playoff match since 2011 was always going to be a steep learning curve for the Warriors. Sure, they had a smattering of players with finals experience but had never been there as a team, while it was a completely new experience for eight of their 17 players. In contrast, the Panthers had a group of grizzled veterans who had been on post-season runs together.

Like most things in life, you can't beat experience, and James Maloney produced a masterclass.

The Warriors were also desperately unlucky to lose Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to a knee strain.
It made you wonder about those urban legends of the Warriors being cursed, as you watched their fullback limp off midway through the first half. He's not just the team's captain but the inspiration and organiser.

Warriors coach Stephen Kearney had pushed the "simple is better" mantra all week but his team failed to heed the warning. They made some bizarre errors, including a crooked play the ball and a hooked kickoff, and poor decisions.

Like opting for three consecutive short dropouts early in the second half. Sure, it worked earlier this year but this is the playoffs and no time for death-or-glory plays. All it did was increase the chances of another repeat set and Penrith had five in a row at one point.

Big games are decided on simple moments, good decisions and clear thinking. In the first half, after a bright start, the Warriors struggled with that. It's a team game but Solomone Kata froze in the spotlight early on. The centre was penalised with his first touch as he played the ball sideways, then knocked on again with his second touch as he rushed to get up.

To compound matters, on the following play Kata rushed out of the line, slipped over as he tried to get back, leaving a hole that led directly to the third Penrith try.

Momentum had turned earlier, when at 12-2, Adam Blair tried a third-tackle offload with the Warriors hot on attack. A Maloney 40/20 on the next set gave the Panthers the momentum to score their first try. Any initiative the Warriors had was undone by Issac Luke's errant kickoff over the sideline and the Warriors didn't score another point from the 13th minute onwards.