By Jake Bull
The Illawarra Cutters were defeated 34-28 by the Penrith Panthers at Pepper Stadium, Penrith on Saturday.
The Cutters let a late second-half lead slip to ultimately round-off their NSW Cup campaign on a low.
It did not take long for the Panthers to get on the board when Ray Leosa found his way over out wide in the second minute.
Panthers captain Sione Katoa added the two points for a 6-0 lead.
Six minutes later Leosa had his second try of the game when he picked up a loose ball and streaked away to score under the posts.
Katoa converted to make it 12-0.
The shellshock of the opening ten minutes ended for the visitors not long after when second-rower Peni Botiki finished off a play that started with a cross-field kick.
Cutters fullback Blake Wallace converted to make it 12-6.
Four minutes later and the Cutters were in again when Wallace scored after a great pass from halfback Shannon Crook.
He converted his own try to bring the game level at 12-all.
It was a flurry of tries for the visitors when in the 20th minute late-inclusion Adam Clune stepped and weaved his way across the white line.
Wallace had another easy conversion to make it 18-12 to the travelling side.
With ten minutes to play before half-time, the Cutters scored their fourth try of the half when Botiki went through a gap for his second try of the afternoon.
It was four-from-four from Wallace as the Cutters went into the break with a 24-12 lead.
Five minutes into the second half the Panthers got back into the game when lock Matt Eisenhuth slammed the ball down from close range.
Katoa was also having a good day with the boot as he made it 24-18.
Three minutes later Ray Leosa was over for his hat-trick when he went over out wide to make it a tense affair at 24-22.
With fifteen minutes to play, the Cutters looked to have swung the momentum back their way when Fijian winger Eto Nabuli scored in the corner to make it 28-22.
That would be the last time the Cutters would score this season as in the 73rd minute some desperation from Tom Eisenhuth to keep the ball in allowed Leosa to get his fourth of the game before Eisenhuth got one of his own as the Panthers charged towards the finals with the 34-28 win.
Illawarra Cutters 28. Tries: Botiki (2), Wallace, Clune, Nabuli. Goals: Wallace (4/5).
Penrith Panthers 34. Tries: Leosa (4), M. Eisenhuth, T. Eisenhuth. Goals: Katoa (5/6).