‘It was a massive brain snap and it hurt us’
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary described it as a moment of madness; another example of ill-discipline plaguing the team's sorry start to the NRL season.
The Panthers' disappointing campaign sunk to a new low on Thursday night after blowing a 14-point lead with 16 minutes remaining to lose to Cronulla.
And Cleary's side only have themselves to blame after giving away the last seven penalties of the game, including a brain snap from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
With his team leading 14-0 early in the second half, Watene-Zelezniak made a strong kick return before pushing over Chad Townsend after a play-the-ball. And while the penalty didn't lead directly to a try, Bronson Xerri scored a runaway 65-metre try three minutes later to kickstart the Sharks' comeback.
"Fourteen to nil, and there was a period where we could've gotten momentum swing our way, we give a penalty away in possession of the ball," Cleary said.
And despite Waqa Blake restoring the lead not long after, Penrith were unable to stop a surging Cronulla side from mounting a stirring victory.
An apologetic Watene-Zelezniak rued the incident after the game.
"Any penalties are a turning point, but that was a big one because we had the ball. Looking back on it now, I regret it a lot. It was a brain snap," he said.
"I'll work on that and make sure I never do it again. I just reacted to it poorly and I've got to learn how to control it in other ways and not make that mistake again.
"(Cleary) addressed it and I apologised. It was a massive brain snap and it hurt us."
The defeat means Penrith have now opened the year with four losses in six games, leaving Cleary under searing pressure in his return season with the club.
This time last year under Anthony Griffin, who was later sacked before the finals, the Panthers had won five of six and were sitting second on the table.
The good news for Penrith fans is that while they have made the finals just twice in 28 attempts after starting 2-4, both were in 2016 and 2017.
"We're on a journey of improvement and the best lessons are learnt the hard way. Hopefully it sinks in, it's going to need to," Cleary said.
They may also need to find a new centre for next week's daunting match-up with South Sydney after Dean Whare suffered a suspected hamstring injury.