By Alicia Newton - NRL.com National Correspondent
St George Illawarra remain alive in the 2017 NRL Telstra Premiership season and have ended Penrith's seven-game winning streak with a thrilling 16-14 victory at Pepper Stadium.
In a seesawing and tense affair, the Dragons hung on to a two-point lead for the final 24 minutes of the clash following the Sea Eagles' one-point victory over the Warriors in Auckland.
St George Illawarra's season was officially sudden death five minutes before the start of play and there was controversy before a ball was even kicked with Australian Test centre Josh Dugan left out of the Dragons line-up due to disciplinary reasons.
Paul McGregor's decision didn't seem to distract the team early on with the Red V shooting out of the blocks to lead 6-0.
Penrith's right edge had the fumbles to start the clash that enabled the Dragons some early possession and a chance to attack.
After a disallowed try for the visitors in the fifth minute, Paul Vaughan did it all himself four minutes later with a charging effort close to the line.
The Panthers responded nine minutes out from the break when Tyrone May kept the ball alive on the last tackle to step inside Cameron McInnes and Tyson Frizell to level the scores.
St George Illawarra's solid start was on the verge of unravelling with Josh McCrone spilling possession in the following set. A late tackle on Nathan Cleary enabled the Panthers to take a two-point lead via a penalty goal.
The Dragons then struck a big blow a minute out from the break with fullback Matt Dufty weaving his way through some clumsy defence on the left edge to regain the lead.
Both sides were forced to deal with gusty conditions in the second half with a strong breeze coming through Pepper Stadium prior to the break.
The change in conditions proved challenging for the Panthers early in the second half but Anthony Griffin's men defended their way out of a pressure situation before turning a chance to attack into points.
Tyrone Peachey got on the outside of Dugan's replacement Kurt Mann to send the ball inside for Josh Mansour to slide over the line.
Penrith have been notoriously strong finishes in 2017 but the momentum swung in the hands of McGregor's side once more when Tariq Sims stripped the ball one-on-one from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to outrace Mansour and Peachey to the tryline.
In a seesawing affair, an error from Nene MacDonald immediately put the Dragons back under pressure to defend their two-point lead – a mission they were finding difficult as the home side stormed home.
Led by the experience of Gareth Widdop however, the Dragons controlled the backend with two repeat sets that starved Penrith of any chance of a last-minute finale.
The Panthers were forced to play out the second half with 16 men as Dylan Edwards failed to return to the field with a knee injury.
St George Illawarra will now need to beat the Bulldogs next week, while the Sea Eagles-Panthers clash looms as critical with the loser of the clash in danger of missing the finals.
The Cowboys are also no guarantee with the final round to decide the final two spots on the ladder.
St George Illawarra Dragons 16 (Vaughan, Dufty, Sims tries; Widdop 2 goals) defeated Penrith Panthers 14 (May, Mansour tries; Cleary 3 goals) at Pepper Stadium. Half-time: Dragons 12-8. Crowd: 18,848.