St George Illawarra recruit Jack Bird will take confidence from his first appearance in almost two years after being involved in two disallowed tries he believes should have won the game for the Dragons.
Bird, who has overcome shoulder, sternum and back-to-back knee injuries that limited him to just 17 games with Brisbane over the past two seasons, insists he had scored late in the second half only for officials to rule he had been held up.
The incident occurred just minutes after the NRL Bunker had overturned a try when the former NSW Origin star forced the ball loose and winger Cody Ramsey dived over.
"That was a changing point in the game, obviously with that dropped ball when Ramsey scored in the corner," Bird said.
"If I did knock it forward I feel they knocked it on first but it is what it is.
Get Caught Up: Round 1
"I think we should have won tonight but a few calls didn’t go our way. We were down 14-12 at the time and if we score that we got up possibly 18-14 and then if I score in the corner it put us up 24-14.
"I am certain I got the ball down but that’s the ref’s call and I can’t complain because it’s happened. I thought we showed plenty of heart out there but we didn’t get the chocolates."
The Dragons conceded two tries in the opening 14 minutes from kicks and a penalty goal to give Cronulla a 14-0 lead but fought their way back into the game in the second half.
Match Highlights: Dragons v Sharks
However, momentum shifted back in the favour of the Sharks after the disallowed tries and they ran out 32-18 winners.
"I am obviously disappointed with the result but it was just good to get back out there and play a game of footy in the NRL," Bird said.
"I am a bit sore now and personally I have a few things I have got to work on, one of them being defence.
"It was my first game in nearly two years but I came out with a lot of confidence and I’ll just keep building from that. I was a bit nervous obviously, my heart was racing and I had butterflies but I tried not to think about it too much."
Dragons coach Anthony Griffin said his side had committed too many errors in the first half but he was proud of the way they fought their way back into the game.
"We had to make 120 more tackles and we did that to ourselves," Griffin said.
"It was an enormous physical and mental effort from our guys to stay in that game right up to six minutes to go.
Dufty tears the Sharks open up the middle
"You feed a team like them 12 or 13 errors in your own end and you are going to pay. I was proud for the way they played for each other and their physicality. I thought we had some good control once we got some ball
"We killed ourselves with errors. Before we do anything we hand them 14 points in that first 20 minutes and that was always going to be hard to run down."
Fullback Matt Dufty had a mixed night, scoring a sensation 50-metre try to put the Dragons within two points of Cronulla midway through the second half but he also came up with some handling errors in the wet conditions.
"His positional play and the way he went after the game in attack and defence I thought he came up with a reasonable effort but we have to clean up those errors," Griffin said.
"He has never had any problem scoring tries, it is the other side of his game that he has got to work hard at. He is a really good kid, he feels terrible for the team down there and he will improve off that performance."
Griffin said suspended five-eighth Corey Norman was likely to be included in the team for next weekend’s trip to Townsville.