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Defiant Dragons beaten by Sharks in NRL

NZN 12/05/2017 Scott Bailey

St George Illawarra were beaten by a Cronulla forward pass but lost no admirers in their 18-14 NRL defeat on Friday night.

In a finals-like encounter at UOW Jubilee Oval, the Sharks came from behind twice in the second half to down the Dragons.

Saints prop Paul Vaughan pushed his Origin chances, scoring his team's opening try and setting up their other in a 191-metre running display.

But the main talking point came in the 50th minute when the Sharks overturned an 8-6 half time deficit from an apparent forward pass.

After Cronulla spread it to the left on the last, centre Ricky Leutele produced a one-handed basketball-style pass for his outside man Sosaia Feki to score.

The ball appeared to have been pushed well forward, with former referees boss Billy Harrigan declaring the game an NFL match in commentary for Triple M, after a similar pass in the next set.

"It was a forward pass," Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.

"They're humans so they're going to make bad decisions or wrong calls; that's just part of the game.

"But when it costs you a result it hurts."

Despite the result, there was plenty to like about the Dragons - who slip to third after their third consecutive loss.

Without their two best players in Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan, they completed at 92 per cent and made just three handling errors in a valiant display.

"Most of the guys have played four games in 19 days," McGregor said

"That's tough for them. To put that effort in again tonight off the back end of that."

The Dragons also lost Euan Aitken - who could be ruled out for up to a month with a hamstring injury - early, forcing Kurt Mann to the wing and Jai Field into the halves.

And even when they looked beaten by the Leutele pass, they came back once more with Vaughan providing a back-handed flick offload for Russell Packer to score.

However, it was counteracted by a scrappy Feki match-winning try - after Chad Townsend flung a ball out of dummy-half - that pushed the Sharks up to second spot on the NRL ladder.

But if nothing else, it again pushed Vaughan's cause for at least a bench spot on Laurie Daley's NSW bench.

"The way he's competed against teams like Cronulla - he'll get noticed," McGregor said.

"It's good to see individuals get rewarded when the team goes well. And Paul is one of those players who is doing everything right for his team."

Cronulla, meanwhile, were adventurous with ball in hand.

Brisbane-bound Jack Bird played as an extra half late in the middle and looked most dangerous as the Sharks came over the top.

"I thought Jack Bird was our best player by far," Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said.

"Just the way he competed. He pushed for everything.

"His competitive nature stood out tonight."

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