St George-Illawarra will be fighting to keep their spot in the top eight when they face bitter rivals Cronulla next weekend, with the Dragons staring down the barrel of a fifth straight loss.
Paul McGregor’s side currently occupy fourth spot on the NRL ladder, but are one of five teams on 20 points, including eighth-placed Canterbury, after being held out 18-12 by the more desperate North Queensland on Saturday.
It sets up a crunch game for the Dragons at Remondis Stadium next Sunday against the Sharks, who St George Illawarra scored their last win in the competition over in round 12 on May 31.
The Dragons dismantled the Sharks 42-6 that day, but how things have changed for the once competition leaders.
“The guys worked hard to put themselves in a good position on the ladder and when you lose consecutive games, you drop down pretty quickly,” McGregor said.
“We’re not happy with that. The situation for us is the last three games we were in it right to the end but we couldn’t manage a win and tonight was no different.”
At Brookvale, Manly temporarily pulled themselves off the bottom of the table with a 28-16 swoop of Cronulla courtesy of a hat-trick to winger Jorge Taufua.
The home side led from start to finish to record their second win in three weeks, with halfback Daly Cherry-Evans bouncing back from his State of Origin snubbing to star for the Sea Eagles.
Meanwhile, a Bryce Cartwright-inspired Panthers side recorded back-to-back wins for just the second time this year after upsetting defending premiers South Sydney 20-6 in Penrith on Friday night.
Cartwright ran a game-high 209 metres and had a hand in two of his sides four tries – one of them an audacious flick pass in the first half – to stamp his arrival as a rising star.
Compounding the loss for the Rabbitohs is a possible ruptured bicep to stand-in skipper John Sutton.
Wests Tigers host Parramatta at ANZ Stadium on Monday night to complete a shortened Round 17 of the NRL, with halfback Luke Brooks ruled out for the joint venture.
Brooks has been replaced by former St George Illawarra halfback Josh Drinkwater.
Brisbane hold a two-point lead at the top of ladder ahead of a showdown with Canterbury next week.