Coach Anthony Griffin concedes it will be difficult for St George Illawarra to make the NRL finals after a 24-18 loss to Cronulla, which may also have coincided with Tariq Sims' last game at the Dragons.
St George Illawarra trailed 18-6 at the break, but desperate to avoid a fourth straight year without finals, capitalised on the sin-binning of Blayke Brailey and an error-prone Sharks attack to wage a second-half comeback.
But the inclusion of five-eighth Braydon Trindall and a late try to captain Wade Graham proved enough to seal the result for the Sharks, who are now daring to dream of their first top-two finish this century.
St George Illawarra are two wins adrift of the top eight with four rounds of the regular season to play.
And while they remain a mathematical chance of playing in September, their poor points differential makes their task an almost impossible one as they stare down their longest finals drought.
"It's tough (to make the finals) now," Griffin said.
"But there's only one game that matters and that's next Sunday. We've got to dust ourselves off.
"I was really happy with our effort. I was proud of the way we kept coming and putting ourselves in the game. But our execution both sides of the ball cost us at times in the second half."
Melbourne-bound Sims was sin-binned for making forceful shoulder contact with Connor Tracey's head early in the first half and is certain to face scrutiny from the match review committee.
A ban will mean he could have easily played his last game for the Dragons.
Tracey appeared to have been knocked out before he hit the ground and left the field on a stretcher.
"Those situations are never nice. No player goes out there to hurt," Graham said.
"It was good to see (Tracey) after the game in good spirits. He seems fine."
The Sharks could not make the most of the extra-man advantage when Sims was sin-binned but Trindall took matters into his own hands once the full complement was restored at Pointsbet Stadium.
Called in to replace Matt Moylan (quad injury) on game day, Trindall first sliced through the left edge with a slick individual effort and then provided for Teig Wilton to stretch the margin to two tries.
Brailey's sin-binning for repeated ruck infringements was the impetus for a Dragons' surge, which began with a Tautau Moga try out wide.
Even when Brailey returned, the Sharks were rattled and risked surrendering their lead after Mathew Feagai crossed on the opposite edge.
Graham was the beneficiary of a long-range try that extended the Sharks' lead and the result was sealed when Dragons fullback Moses Mbye knocked on close to the Sharks' line in the dying seconds, ending the visitors' last shot at bridging the gap.
Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon was proud of his side's ability to overcome injuries to Moylan and fullback Will Kennedy during the week.
"There's a lot of positive stuff there with our character and toughness out of that game," he said.
"Our footy can be improved a little bit there but it was a good contest."
Kade Dykes became the only third-generation player in Sharks history when he made his debut at fullback in place of Kennedy.
Australian Associated Press
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