Dragons claim bragging rights in derby upset
St George Illawarra have kept their slender finals hopes alive and added to the Sharks' woes in an upset 32-18 local derby win at UOW Jubilee Oval on Saturday night.
Without skipper Paul Gallen – who was ruled out with a calf injury in the warm up – the Sharks were unable to prevent the Dragons' biggest attacking game this year.
Dragons skipper Gareth Widdop's 16-point haul and the return of fullback Josh Dugan played a huge part in the Red V jumping the Sea Eagles on the NRL Telstra Premiership to 11th position.
With top eight hopefuls in the Warriors and Wests Tigers losing in Round 23, the Dragons remain a mathematical chance of featuring past the first week of September.
While the Sharks were up 12-6 at half-time, Dragons hooker Mitch Rein's try in the 49th minute helped level the scoreline. It came from a barnstorming Tariq Sims run and offload and some handy work from Taane Milne and Jason Nightingale in between.
Sims's help in assisting Rein's four-pointer kick-started an almighty showing from the ex-Knight, who scored the Dragons' next two tries.
Sims's first came in the 54th minute when he outpaced Sharks speedster Ben Barba to ground Widdop's pinpoint grubber kick.
Five minutes later he would power his way over the white stripe from close range.
The Sharks pegged one back in the 62nd minute when Barba declined himself a likely brace of tries by throwing a wild cut-out ball for Ricky Leutele to score instead. Leutele entered the game for an injured Sosaia Feki (groin) just minutes prior.
Maloney's second penalty goal of the game in the 69th minute made it a six-point ball game but an Andrew Fifita error in the following set would lead to Widdop's eventual match-winner three minutes later.
While it ended in misery for the Sharks, they posted points early when Jake Marketo's attempt at second-phase play was intercepted by Valentine Holmes.
The Sharks winger had 15 metres to run to ensure he'd regain the NRL's leading try-scorer mantle (equal with Suliasi Vunivalu on 17).
Off the back of an inspirational Dugan try-saver on Feki, Dragons teammate Euan Aitken crossed in the 11th minute. Sent to the bunker by referee Gerard Sutton, senior review official Luke Patten had no choice but to agree due to insufficient evidence to overturn the decision.
It took a special effort from the Sharks in the 27th minute to break the deadlock. Five metres out from their own try-line, James Maloney caught the Dragons napping on their right edge.
Quick hands from the five-eighth and back-rower Wade Graham allowed Feki a 50-metre passage down field where he drew in Dugan and handed off to Barba to score.
Unfortunately for the Sharks, their flashiness wouldn't hold up for the entire 80, with the Dragons claiming a famous derby win.
St George Illawarra Dragons 32 (Tariq Sims 2, Euan Aitken, Mitch Rein, Gareth Widdop tries; Gareth Widdop 6 goals) defeated Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 18 (Valentine Holmes, Ben Barba, Ricky Leutele tries; James Maloney 3 goals) at UOW Jubilee Oval. Crowd: 13,167. Half-time: Sharks 12-6.