Jason Nightingale proved an unlikely ally for the video referees in the Luke Lewis shoulder charge furore, claiming he was comfortable with the decision that helped trigger the Sharks’ improbable win.
The stopgap St George Illawarra fullback came off second best in a contentious collision with Lewis, which dislodged the ball from Nightingale’s grasp to allow Beau Ryan to score.
Dragons players pleaded with on-field official Ben Cummins to review Lewis’s challenge on Nightingale, which hinted of the outlawed shoulder charge, when chasing a Jayson Bukuya grubber.
But video referees Paul Mellor and Luke Patten flashed up the green light. The try hauled the Sharks to within two points of the Dragons with just six minutes remaining.
Andrew Fifita’s last-minute heroics capped Cronulla’s dramatic 22-18 win, which wrested the Monty Porter Cup off the hosts.
Frustrated Dragons coach Steve Price fumed at the ruling, claiming ‘‘we could all see’’ it was a shoulder charge.
But Nightingale defended the decision, describing Lewis’s contact with his torso as being in the act of contesting the ball.
‘‘If he was competing for the ball, you are allowed to go in with the shoulder,’’ Nightingale told the Mercury.
‘‘It was sort of a shoulder charge but you could argue the fact he was competing for the ball and then it’s play on.
‘‘They called it a try and I didn’t have too much of a problem with it really.’’
While not being too perturbed by the controversial decision, Nightingale took a swipe at the hasty decision to award Fifita’s match-sealing four-pointer.
The imposing State Of Origin front-rower toed the ball through after Todd Carney’s desperate kick ricocheted off Charly Runciman, beating out the challenge of Nightingale to the grounding.
It was again referred upstairs, but the eyes in the sky poured over the footage for only seconds before sending the travelling Cronulla faithful into raptures.
‘‘He was definitely there first, [but] I felt my arm get downward pressure,’’ Nightingale said. ‘‘I probably will go home and have another look at it.
‘‘I would have liked to have seen it one more time [on the field].’’
Nightingale and Lewis had a running battle all night, with the latter pantsing the Kiwi international as early as the fifth minute when he burst downfield. Nightingale backed up on the following play to crash over from Brett Morris’s offload.
Nightingale also won an important second-half exchange when he clung to Lewis inches from the try line, forcing the NSW utility to propel the ball on to the chalk in what the video referees later deemed a double movement.
But an error-strewn Sharks got their revenge late on, snapping a 24-year winless drought at WIN Stadium despite a completion rate of just 59per cent.
‘‘I heard one of their players at the [78th minute] scrum, I think they thought one of our boys [Jeff Robson] played at it, say ‘ref, that’s going to cost us the game’," Sharks skipper Paul Gallen said. ‘‘I thought it was a pretty negative call by them. We got excited by it.’’
Despite having a glut of stars watching on injured from the stands, the Dragons didn’t lose anything at the back with Nightingale deputising for Josh Dugan.
‘‘To set up that first try where he made that line break and doubled up on the next play was magnificent,’’ Price said.
‘‘It’s been a while since he’s played fullback. It’s a tough position nowadays, it’s very demanding and I was proud of him.’’