The premiership party is well and truly over for Illawarra, with a classy Penrith Panthers outfit downing the premiers 28-6 in a sloppy game at UOW Jubilee Oval.
Wet conditions derailed the content, with both teams being guilty of uncharacteristic errors throughout the game.
Darren Nicholls and Tyrone May controlled the game beautifully for the Panthers, while Dylan Edwards played a pivotal role in both attack and defence at fullback.
Penrith dominated field position early and almost scored in the opening 10 minutes, but solid contact on Sitaleki Akauola forced an error and prevented a potential try.
No mistake was made a few moments later however, when Mitch Rein used his wealth of NRL experience to beautiful hold a ball up for Viliame Kikau to crash over and open the Panthers’ account for the game, and for 2017.
An error deep inside their half followed by a conceded Penrith immediately had them on the back foot, and Illawarra capitalised on the situation when Jacob Hind ran a perfect line off a Patrick Herbert passed and muscled his way over adjacent to the posts.
The Panthers marched up-field and looked certain to score, but Dylan Edwards was denied by a brilliant, bone-rattling tackle by Herman Sele that not only prevented a try, but forced a turnover.
Desperate defence could not stop the Panthers next try however, as Tyrone May somehow batted the ball to his left on the fly as the Illawarra defenders rushed up, which found the hands of Jed Cartwright who passed to an unmarked Corey Harawira-Naera.
As the errors faded, the Panthers’ momentum started to build, and were suddenly able to roll up-field with ease.
In the final few minutes of the first half, Darren Nicholls pin-pointed a back-tracking defence on the short side, and the ball found itself in the hands of Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, who scored in the corner to push the lead out to 16-6.
Matt Dufty injected himself early into the contest early in the second half when he nearly finished off a spectacular try of a chip-kick, but despite his confidence in grounding the ball, the referee ruled a knock-on and brought the ball back for a twenty metre re-start.
Penrith had a similar chance 10 minutes later as they found space down the right side of the field, but Edwards over-ran the pass and the chance went begging.
No tries were scored in the second half until the 74th minute, when May put the accelerator on through a gaping hole to seal the game for the Penrith Panthers, while Samisoni Langi scored a late try to put the result beyond doubt.