With two Sydney teams playing, it was a disappointing crowd of 19,211 at Allianz Stadium, less than half of the stadium's 45,000 seat capacity.
But compared to the AFL's bumper crowd of 90,152 at the Demons and Hawks semi-final at the MCG, it was a bad look for the NRL.
Fans took to social media to vent about the bad look for the game, several commenting to ARL commissioner Peter Beattie.
You and Tod should be really worried about the poor crowd for a finals match. The game was a good game but.
— Lionel Wirth (@wirth_lionel) September 14, 2018
What is going on? This is a shocking crowd for an elimination finals game, especially with it being two Sydney teams
— Nathan (@Shadow3996) September 14, 2018
TV cameras having a hard time, try not to show empty seat #NRLSharksPanthers. What a poor crowd for finals football. How can NRL justify new stadium with these crowds @Peter_Fitz
— Richard Denyer (@rdenyer) September 14, 2018
@NRL I think the game is going backwards for the fans and players
After watching the crowd in last night's @AFL game with 90k fans the @NRL looks like reserve grade
Imgine how good the players would perform for there fans if there was 90k at the semi finals to watch them
— James Green (@JamesGr82283716) September 14, 2018
And didn't the crowd go wild... no not really. Why would you bother stumping up the heavily discounted $25 to have NO atmosphere at a final between two teams who finished 4 and 5 on the ladder. Stay at home. But in Melbourne 90000 and paid finals prices
— theRamblingHugh (@hugh_m_) September 14, 2018
Thr crowd tonight was disappointing. I think the NRL should get rid of Friday night finals in week 2 & 3 & go back to finals on a Saturday night & Sunday afternoon. Friday just to hard to get to & i reckon the crowds would be bigger. #NRLSharksPanthers #NRLFinals
— Aaron Bushby (@abushby89) September 14, 2018
Wow. Check out the crowd difference between the @AFL and @NRL for the finals. The @nrl stadium is almost empty while the MCG is bursting. #AFLFinals2018
— Rob (@R__Fin) September 14, 2018
The fans who did make the trek to Allianz Stadium were treated to a classic semi-final finish with the Sharks holding off a Panthers comeback with a late Chad Townsend field goal.
Panther coach Cameron Ciraldo said the Panthers' tendency to give up big leads came back to haunt them in the end.
'You shouldn't be able to do that this time of the year, to be catching up from 14-0, 18-0. It just shouldn't happen,' Ciraldo said.
'Everything we do in the pre-season has to be about making sure that doesn't happen to us next year and become a habit for us like it was this year.'
The Panthers coach said his playing group had to be driven by the heartbreak of this year's finals exit as they head into 2019.
'No matter who's doing what or who's in what position, the feeling they're feeling right now has to drive the group for the next 12 months and make sure we don't end up in the same place,' Ciraldo said.
'I don't really care what job I've got or what my role is, there's potential there and we've got to make sure we realise it.'
The Sharks are one of the few teams to have the wood over Melbourne, not only famously beating the Storm in the grand final two years ago to win the club's elusive maiden premiership, but also conquering Craig Bellamy's team twice already this season.
'I am obviously excited about it,' Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said.
'We have had some great tussles with them obviously from the (2016) grand final. They have been fantastic games.
'We have been lucky enough to win some and unlucky on a couple of occasions or they have been too good for us.
'It is a real challenge going down there on the back of Melbourne having a week off. They will be fresh.
'They will have some players back from suspension (Will Chambers) and injury (Nelson Asofa-Solomona) so we will have to be on our game if we are going to play in the grand final.'
— with AAP