St George Illawarra have caused one of the upsets of the NRL season with a 32-18 win over a Cronulla side, minus Paul Gallen, to all but end the Sharks’ minor premiership tilt.
In front of a vocal 13,167 crowd at UOW Jubilee Oval, mid-season signing Tariq Sims played his best game for the Red V, breaking a heated local derby open on Saturday by scoring two tries in the second half and setting up a third in the space of 10 minutes.
The win ends a five-game losing streak for the Dragons but, more importantly, lifts them to 11th spot and within two points of eighth-placed Penrith.
For the Sharks, the loss leaves them without a win three games, and one point behind ladder leaders Melbourne, who play Canberra on Monday, raising serious questions about their premiership ambitions.
Gallen was a late withdrawal from the game, pulling out with a calf injury in the warm-up.
“We were getting a fair way into the warm-up and I felt a nick in my calf, strained my calf slightly. Had a quick ultrasound and there’s a slight tear. I’ll get a scan tomorrow,” he told Fox Sports during the game.
Down 12-6 at halftime, Sims kicked off his game-changing spurt in the 49th minute, trampling over James Maloney and offloading for Mitch Rein to level the scores.
The former Newcastle forward then gave his team the lead when he pounced on a Gareth Widdop grubber in the 54th minute, before powering over from close range.
A Ricky Leutele try and Maloney penalty reduced the gap to six with 10 minutes to play, however the Dragons held on for one of their most-impressive wins of the season.
The 32 points is a season-high, while it is also the first time in five weeks they have scored more than two tries.
The Dragons made their intentions clear from the kickoff, twice shifting wide in a set that also included two offloads and ended in an attacking position.
In an end-to-end opening to the match, Chad Townsend and Josh Dugan traded try-saving efforts before Benji Marshall chipped early in the tackle count for Euan Aitken to score.
The best try of the night went to Sharks fullback Ben Barba, who finished off a 95-metre effort that began with winger Sosaia Feki streaking away after an early shift in front of their own sticks.
Feki failed to come out of the sheds in the second half after succumbing to a groin injury, while forward Jesse Sene-Lefao could find himself in trouble for a high shot in the 52nd minute.