Cronulla Sharks slip back outside top eight after 26-20 loss to Penrith Panthers

Cronulla have slipped back outside the top eight after they suffered a 26-20 loss to Penrith on Friday night.

The Sharks were second best in almost everything they did at Panthers Stadium as the hosts ran riot in the first half on the back of a strong performance from halfback Nathan Cleary and debutant five-eighth Matt Burton.

Penrith climbed above Cronulla with the six-point victory as the Sharks dropped back to ninth. They could fall as low as 11th by the end of the weekend should the Wests Tigers and Newcastle score wins against Canterbury and Parramatta respectively.

What will give Cronulla hope is the fact they will be no more than two points outside the top eight at worst come Sunday night. The Sharks also enjoy three straight home matches, potentially their final three games at Shark Park for more than two years, starting with a home derby against St George Illawarra next Sunday.

Cronulla were almost at full strength, only missing former Panthers star Matt Moylan who missed the clash after suffering a nasty head knock courtesy of Sam Burgess against South Sydney last weekend.

Penrith dominated the opening 40 minutes and led 20-4 at half-time. Brent Naden, Dylan Edwards and Cleary crossed for the Panthers with Wade Graham offering Cronulla's only resistance as the Sharks lost Matt Prior early on to a rib injury.

The second half threatened to get ugly for the Sharks as Edwards added his second try just three minutes after the re-start.

But Cronulla refused to go away. Jack Williams charged over on the hour mark to reduce the deficit to 26-10 before Josh Morris scored four minutes later to bring the Sharks right back into the game.

And Sosaia Feki set up a grand stand finish, crossing in the corner with five minutes to play after a lightning shift to the left featuring a sublime Graham cut out pass.

Cronulla chased another try valiantly to drag themselves level but fell short as the young Panthers held on for a courageous victory.

Leader Scoreboard

Penrith Panthers 26 (Dylan Edwards two, Brent Naden, Nathan Cleary tries. Nathan Cleary five goals)


Cronulla Sharks 20 (Wade Graham, Jack Williams, Josh Morris, Sosaia Feki tries. Shaun Johnson two goals)

at Panthers Stadium, Penrith

Leader man of the match: Nathan Cleary (Panthers)

Sharks' next three: Dragons (home), Warriors (home), Raiders (home)