St George Illawarra have gone close to pulling off an improbable NRL comeback win over arch-rivals Cronulla, going down 28-24 in an enthralling affair in Kogarah.
The Dragons were down by 14 points with almost half-an-hour to go on Saturday evening when Zac Lomax was involved in two tries in five minutes to set up a grandstand finish.
But they blew two chances in the final two minutes to steal the win.
Matt Dufty failed to ground a Ben Hunt grubber in the 78th minute, before Jason Saab touched down on the dead-ball line on the final play of the game.
St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor will also be left to rue the bunker’s decision to award Jack Williams a try early in the contest.
Replays showed Dufty grounded the ball in-goal before Williams.
“Pretty clear, right? So how do they keep getting it wrong and who’s accountable for it? It’s a stuff up but, in the end, there’s the difference,” McGregor said.
“The person who’s watching this should, and all you guys should make enough song and dance to do something about it, eh, because it’s not good enough.”
It was a thrilling end to an entertaining contest at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, where both sides defied the wet conditions to combine for nine tries.
Lomax was involved in two contenders for the try of the year, but it was not enough to prevent the irrepressible form of Sharks star Shaun Johnson.
The league leader in try assists added two more, taking his tally to 16, was involved in a third, and scored a fourth himself in another stellar display.
He was supported by prop Royce Hunt, who made 196 metres off the bench.
The win might have come at a cost, though, with halfback Chad Townsend (calf) and Jesse Ramien (hamstring) both suffering injuries.
In a high-octane opening, both teams traded early tries before the Dragons produced one for the highlight reels.
A break by Dufty resulted in a push down the left flank before switching to the right, where Hunt kicked for Lomax, who grubbered for himself to score.
However, the Sharks seized momentum off the back of four-straight six-again calls which resulted in three-successive tries, all involving Johnson.
The New Zealand international had a hand in Sione Katoa going over, before he waltzed through himself after a Tyrell Fuimaono slip.
Johnson gave his team an eight-point halftime lead when he grubbered for fullback Will Kennedy in the 34th minute.
A blowout loomed when Aaron Woods crashed over soon after resumption, however Dufty kept his team in the game with a flick pass for Lomax’s second.
The comeback was on after Lomax’s next contribution, a no-look flick pass which ricocheted off a Sharks player and into the hands of Mikaele Ravalawa to score.
But Cronulla held on to claim their fifth win in six games to climb into the eight.
“Massive sigh of relief; that was a nervous last 10 minutes there; just so proud of the boys,” Sharks coach John Morris said.
“That was a local derby the way they were meant to be played.”