Cronulla have held on for a heart-stopping 28-24 triumph over arch-rivals St George Illawarra on Saturday night at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
Leading 28-14 early in the second half after overturning a 14-6 deficit, the Sharks almost let it slip, as the Dragons applied the blowtorch with tries to Zac Lomax and Mikaele Ravalawa.
They managed to keep their line intact over the final 23 minutes, climbing back into the top eight with their sixth win of the season, while the Dragons dropped to 4-7.
The Sharks’ win was soured by the loss of hard-running centre Jesse Ramien, who left the field after 25 minutes with a hamstring injury.
The Dragons drew first blood in unusual circumstances, with Tyrell Fuimaono pouncing on a loose ball after Euan Aitken was stripped over the line. Zac Lomax converted for a 6-0 lead.
Cronulla tied it up at 6-6 in the ninth minute with Jack Williams’ converted try, but replays suggested Dragons fullback Matt Dufty got his hand to the rolling ball before Williams.
Lomax broke the deadlock with an 18th-minute penalty goal and produced a clever kick-and-chase try for himself two minutes later. He booted the sideline conversion for an encore to put the Dragons ahead 14-6.
But their joy was short-lived.
The Sharks quickly hit back with Sione Katoa’s try in the corner and forged ahead 16-14 when Shaun Johnson converted his own try 10 minutes from the break.
They claimed their fourth try of the half when William Kennedy scored in the 33rd minute. Johnson’s conversion from right in front extended the lead to 22-14.
The combined 36 points represented the second-highest total for a half this season.
Aaron Woods scored an easy try to give Cronulla perfect start to the second half, with Johnson adding the extras for a 28-14 lead.
Another Sharks try might’ve put the game out of reach, but Lomax crossed out wide for his second try in the 53rd minute to close the gap to 28-18.
The Dragons were in again minutes later, as Ravalawa finished off a breathtaking sequence to score in the corner. Lomax nailed the conversion to make it 28-24 with more than 20 minutes remaining.
Dufty almost stole victory with three minutes to play but he failed to ground Ben Hunt’s grubber.