A gallant NZ Warriors have fallen to a 18-12 loss to the table-topping Penrith Panthers, in a round 14 NRL clash in Gosford.
The Warriors produced arguably their best defensive performance of the season, defending wave after wave of Panthers attack, especially in the first half when they played with just 30 percent of the ball.
But Penrith have been clinical in 2020, and Friday night was no exception, as they won a club-record ninth game on the trot.
The Panthers forced ten goal line drop outs with Nathan Cleary, Api Koroisau and James Luai providing a three-pronged kicking game.
When Brent Naden crossed for the opening try in the 10th minute, the Warriors had completed six tackles with ball in hand.
Cleary forced three dropouts in three sets, which was finally rewarded when his precise pass found the unmarked Panthers winger to give his side a 4-0 lead.
There was an ugly moment minutes later when several Warriors fans in the crowd were removed after hurling racial abuse at Naden.
Warriors chief executive Cameron George sent an immediate apology to the Fox Sport broadcast team, vilifying the acts of the Kiwi fans.
The Panthers continued their dominance throughout the half, adding a second through Koroisau in the 25th minute.
Fullback Dylan Edwards crossed with three minutes remaining, but a heads up play by Chanel Harris-Tevita got the Warriors back into the contest.
The young playmaker's precise kick found a charging Roger Tuivasa-Sheck who leapt high above Edwards, collected the ball and scored with time up.
Trailing 16-6 at the break, the Warriors fended off several Panthers attacks, before closing the gap to four with 20 minutes to play.
Centre Peta Hiku's delayed pass was enough to create space for Patrick Herbert to score in the right-hand corner before slotting the conversion from the sideline.
A Nathan Cleary penalty goal pushed the Panthers out to a six-point lead and that proved to be the final scoring of a hard-fought contest.
The Warriors threatened, but a wayward pass from Adam Pompey prevented George Jennings from a try-scoring opportunity with time running down.
Next week the Warriors travel to Sydney to take on the struggling Bulldogs.
Penrith Panthers 18 (Naden, Koroisau, Edwards tries, Cleary 2con, 1pen) bt
NZ Warriors 12 (Tuivasa-Sheck, Herbert tries, Herbert 2con)