The St George Illawarra Dragons were defeated 11-10 by the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in golden-point extra time in their Elimination Final fixture at ANZ Stadium, Olympic Park on Saturday.
The Red-and-Whites scored only the one try in the encounter courtesy of winger Eto Nabuli but were ultimately defeated to bow-out of the Finals Series.
Head Coach Paul McGregor had made two surprise changes to the line-up announced midweek with five-eighth Gareth Widdop named to partner halfback Benji Marshall in the halves.
The England international had been sidelined with a cork injury to his quadricep and had been relegated to only light training in recent days.
Additionally, second-rower Joel Thompson had returned to the interchange bench after overcoming a minor hamstring strain where he joined props George Rose, Jack de Belin and Ben Creagh respectively.
The Dragons had entered the encounter having finished eighth on the regular season competition table, three places below their opponents who played the role of host for the match.
Unfortunately, from the moment the first whistle blew, the visitors were forced to absorb an onslaught of pressure directed at their in-goal area.
The Dragons had remained resilient and thwarted several attempts in the opening stages of play before ultimately succumbing to the prowess of Bulldogs fullback Brett Morris in the 11th minute.
Bulldogs halfback Moses Mbye converted shortly thereafter and made it 6-0.
The remainder of the stanza proved bittersweet for the visitors who managed to negate the home side from scoring again whilst not capitalising on their own attacking chances.
The Dragons created two opportunities to open-up their scoring account when second-half play resumed only to be denied by the video referee on each occasion.
Fijian international Eto Nabuli had been denied a four-pointer after falling just short of the stripe whilst halfback Benji Marshall’s effort had been adjourned to be the product of obstruction tactics.
Unfortunately, the former New Zealand international captain was forced from the field eight minutes in to the contest after suffering an ankle injury.
The Keebra Park junior joined second-rower Joel Thompson for the remainder of the game on the sideline after the latter had reignited his reoccurring hamstring problem minutes earlier.
Despite the setbacks, the Dragons placed themselves in a prime position to overcome the odds when Nabuli scored the much-needed four-pointer in the 69th minute.
Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop then levelled the score line with his follow-up conversion.
The England international clinched the lead for the visitors with mere minutes remaining when his penalty conversion had made it 8-6.
However, the Dragons hopes had seemed all but dashed when a smart counter-attack by the hosts three minutes from time ended with winger Shaun Lane scoring.
Fortunately, the visitors forced the game into golden-point when a second awarded penalty in quick succession was converted by Widdop.
The Dragons were unable to take their opportunities in front of goal during the pivot five minute period which later ensured.
This had not been the case for the Bulldogs who claimed the victory through five-eighth Josh Reynold’s field goal three minutes into play.
St George Illawarra Dragons 10. Tries: Nabuli. Goals: Widdop (1/1). Penalty Goal: Widdop (2/2).
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 11. Tries: B Morris, Lane. Goals: Mbye (1/2). Field Goal: Reynold (1/1).