St George Illawarra's hopes of a third straight NRLW finals appearance appear at an end following a 16-8 loss to the Sharks on Thursday night, with coach Jamie Soward admitting his injury-hit side looked to have "run out of juice" following a tough month.
The Dragons came into the match one win adrift of the fourth-placed Broncos, who can out finals out of reach for both of Thursday's combatants with a win over the Tigers on Saturday.
In the first ever women's iteration of the famously fierce local derby, former Dragon Emma Tonegato laid on two tries for the Sharks in the final 13 minutes after her former club had grafted its way in front trough Cortez Tu Pou with 19 minutes left.
It gave the visitors a sniff of victory, but Soward conceded his side couldn't find the energy to pull the trigger after an ankle injury to Sophie Clancy in the warm-up exacerbated the brutally short turnaround both sides faced after plying in Townsville on Saturday.
"Both teams did it, but can someone explain why two teams that traveled from North Queensland did that?" Soward asked.
"Would have happened in the men's game? "There's a lot of excuses there. We lost a player in the warm up and we had a front-rower out in the centres We tried hard, there were just so many factors we had to get right tonight.
"It was in our hands there at 8-6 and we just didn't come up with our best set, attacking-wise. We were courageous, we just didn't have the special juice left in the tank after what's been a rough five weeks for us being young, learning, understanding what it takes to win each week.
"We had our chances at 8-6, I just thought we probably tried to pass our way around instead of running. People will say it's a bit of a cop out, but we're extremely young in terms of learning in those situations and we're still trying to get that right mix."
Sharks utility Brooke Anderson struck first with the opening try and a 6-0 lead 19 minutes in, but it was cut to two at the break when winger Georgia Ravics coughed the ball in her own in-goal to gift Tyla Nathan-Wong the hit back three minutes before halftime.
Te Pou finished off a sweeping move initiated by Teagan Berry on the right edge for an 8-6 lead before Tonegato stole the show late to lay on tries for Tiana Penitani and Cassie Staples.
Dragons skipper Raecene McGregor said the Sharks simply "wanted it more" down the stretch.
"There was a lack of energy out there but no excuses," McGregor said.
"We were resilient, we're always resilient every single week, but tonight they wanted it more than us. You could see it out there, especially when it came down to those last 10 minutes.
"You could hear the crowd, they had their tails up and we just kept looking at the scoreboard and I think that's what got us in the end. We're all upset right now.
"I think we'll just take this feeling into this week's training and be better and hopefully come out against the Broncos [next week] and get the win there."
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