Penrith Panthers' finals aspirations in limbo after heavy loss to Cronulla Sharks

So, when did the unpredictable Panthers become so predictable?

Once the entertainers of the competition, Penrith struggled for answers as the reigning premiers taught the pre-season premiership favourites a lesson with a 28-2 victory at Pepper Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The loss sees Penrith slump to just two wins from the opening seven rounds of the year, casting a dark shadow over the club's finals aspirations after back-to-back heavy defeats at the hands of last year's grand finalists.

Give credit to Cronulla's defence - it was impenetrable.

But the Panthers had enough opportunities to do more than they did and the Sharks walked away with the chocolates on Easter Sunday.

All the talk out of the Shire during the week revolved around the future of Jack Bird.

The NSW Origin representative broke the hearts of a few at the Sharks when he announced he would be departing at season's end bound for Brisbane.

But judging by the way James Maloney and Chad Townsend combined for the opening try of the afternoon, some would suggest Shane Flanagan's reluctance to promise Bird a position in the halves has been justified.

What exactly is Bird's best position is a mystery to most.

The word often used to describe the Sharks centre is "footballer", and he showed that when he crashed over some soft Penrith defence in the second half to grab his first try of the season.

In front of a crowd of 15,780 at the foot of the mountains, the Sharks made it four wins on the trot with a polished performance that only strengthened their back-to-back title credentials.

Skipper Paul Gallen and prop Andrew Fifita both crossed the chalk on an afternoon that marked the return of Panthers Matt Moylan, Waqa Blake and Peta Hiku from a club-imposed one-week NRL suspension.?

Penrith will have the added motivation of taking on western Sydney rivals Parramatta at ANZ Stadium next Saturday afternoon in the hope of kick-starting their season.