NATIONAL YOUTH CUP
St George Illawarra's fairytale run toward the NYC grand final is over after suffering a 44-16 defeat to the Canberra Raiders in their qualifying final on Saturday night.
The loss - one of their biggest of the season - was an unfitting way for the Dragons to bow out of the finals race.
The eighth-ranked Dragons had built considerable momentum after winning nine games from 11 going into the eliminator, but those numbers meant little against a slick and physically-imposing Raiders.
Coach Justin Holbrook lamented the loss, but was equally impressed at how far his side had come from mid-season.
"We had a great year and we were confident that we could beat them but unfortunately they didn't let us," Holbrook said. "It's a weird feeling. We weren't real sure what we were doing early in the year and then the boys got their act together and gave it a good shot.
"I guess tomorrow I'll be proud of their effort but geez it would have been nice to be playing next week.
"They were just too good right across the park."
Canberra halfback Michael Cornish orchestrated the explosive win, helped by the likes of regular first-grader Edrick Lee out wide.
Craig Garvey and Adam Quinlan were influential for the Dragons, regardless of defeat.
In the end, the side was hindered by a lack of fifth-tackle options, as well as leaky defence.
"Canberra were always a danger, they're a top side all over the park," Holbrook said. "I'm happy with the boys' effort but we just weren't good enough."
There were encouraging signs from the Dragons early on, but it was Canberra which controlled the match with dominant passages of play.
The Raiders hit the lead 12 minutes in through an impressive 60-metre try.
Cornish initiated the play off his own 40-metre line, feeding the ball through five sets of hands before Lee crossed under the posts.
A Garvey-inspired blindside play allowed five-eighth Todd Ryan to level the scores minutes later.
But that was where the Dragons' good fortunes ended.
The Raiders went on to dominate the remaining 23 minutes of the half, with tries to Joseph Bradley, Uiti Baker, Jeremy Hawkins and Anthony Milford.
While there were patches of brilliance from the Dragons, the same sequence occurred in the second-half.
Quinlan stemmed the tide somewhat with some brilliant in-goal defence, but he alone couldn't make up for the side's abysmal rate of missed tackles and errors.
Johnathan Reuben, Lee and Mitchell Cronin all crossed for second-half Raiders tries. Kayne Brennan and Quinlan reduced the advantage, but to no avail.
Canberra will now take on Wests Tigers in the grand final this Sunday.