ST GEORGE Illawarra slumped to a third straight loss, but they would’ve lost no fans doing it, going down 18-14 to arch-rivals Cronulla in an epic local derby on Friday.
With Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan both sidelined through injury, the Dragons led by two at halftime and again with 17 minutes remaining only for the Sharks tor triumph through a second-half double Sosaia Feki.
It wasn’t without controversy with Feki’s first try in the 51st minute appearing to come off a blatant forward pass from Ricky Leutele. Feki’s second to re-take the lead with eight minutes remaining was also sent to the bunker, but it proved enough to seal the win for the visitors.
In a four-point ball-game, Dragons coach Paul McGregor admitted the no-call was a tough pill to swallow.
“It was a forward pass,” McGregor said of Feki’s second try.
“It’s frustrating, the last two weeks I’ve spoken to [referees boss] Tony [Archer] about decisions and I think 11 of the 19 I sent away were [judged] incorrect.
“Tonight you could all see some of the decisions… some of them were pretty tough.
“You get your 50-50’s throughout the year, and I’m not going to use it as an excuse, but the last three weeks have been pretty tough.
“[Referees] are human so they’re going to make bad decisions or wrong calls that’s just part of the game. We’ve just had consecutive weeks and you’d like have luck go your way every now and again.
“When it costs you a result it hurts but they’re like players. It’s my job to look after wins and losses not the players, it’s the players’ job to go out there and take a really good attitude to the game and bring their best effort. They’re doing that every week so they’re hurting now.”
The match would’ve been pleasant viewing for NSW coach Laurie Daley with Wade Graham and Jack Bird outstanding for the visitors, while selectors must surely be measuring up Dragons prop Paul Vaughan for a maiden Blues jumper.
The 26-year-old produced a powerhouse first half, bagging his side’s first four-pointer to go with 108 run-metres in the opening stanza, and laid on the 61st minute go-ahead try for fellow book-end Russell Packer.
He finished with a staggering 191 metres for the match while Jack de Belin was also outstanding for the hosts with 111 run metres and 30 tackles in the middle of the park.
The loss was soured further for the hosts with Euan Aitken coming from the field with a serious hamstring injury in the 23rd minute with McGregor confirming he’ll be sidelines at least until after the round 12 bye.
Tim Lafai opened the scoring in the 21st minute before Leutele crossed with Maloney adding the extras for a 6-2 lead.
Vaughan hit back with close-range effort off a deft short-ball from Cameron McInnes to take an 8-6 lead into the break.
The Sharks struck first after the resumption with replays of Leutele’s final pass for Feki’s first try leaving the 15,927-strong home crowd fuming.
Maloney’s conversion gave the Sharks a four-point Vaughan’s magic off-load for Packer’s try saw the Dragons take a 14-12 lead with 17 minutes to play before Feki’s second try off a Maloney kick with eight minutes left on the clock ultimately proved the match-winner.