In the end, it was a moment of freakish play that set up the Cronulla Sharks win, in what was an entertaining contest between two fierce rivals in the Shire.
Heading into the clash without two key players in Josh Dugan and Gareth Widdop, the Dragons fought valiantly and showed their resilience to stay in the contest for the duration of the game and even lead at some points.
With both sides working hard to find that magic play, it was the Sharks who did so through Sosaia Feki as they recorded their first win at UOW Jubilee Oval since 2007.
It was the Dragons who burst of the blocks the quickest, as the calls for Paul Vaughan to be named in the NSW Origin side grow after yet another impressive performance, capped off with an early try.
The Sharks soon hit back as a backline reshuffle due to an injury to Euan Aitken resulted in a try for Sharks centre, Ricky Leutele.
Russell Packer also recorded his first try in Dragons colours with that man again – Paul Vaughan – involved, providing the final pass and assist for his front-row team-mate to score.
As the Sharks looked to retake the lead and thus win the game, it took a fortuitous ricochet and a brilliant scoop pass by Jack Bird to see Feki score the winner and move the Sharks into the top 2.
A stand-out performer across the season, Dragons coach Paul McGregor was full of praise for Vaughan and his efforts and knew that he that level of consistency in him.
“I think he needed a bit of confidence and probably needed a bit of a change as well. When someone gets a bit up the backside like Paul did last year, he wanted to really challenge himself,” McGregor said.
“He had what he classed as the toughest pre-season he’s ever had. We simplified his game around what he needs to do for the footy team. He’s going out and proving a point each week.”
Also in the mix for an Origin spot is Jack Bird, who after his shift to five-eighth late on played a crucial role, drawing strong praise from coach Shane Flanagan.
“I thought Jack Bird was our best player by far,” he said.
“The way he competed… he put that near try on for Wade, he went to five-eighth for a bit, and his competitive nature just stood out tonight.”
Bird hopes he has done enough to be selected in the NSW side for the first Origin game of the series.
“My main focus is here at the Sharks, but fingers crossed I get that Origin call up again,” Bird said.
“Hopefully, I’ve convinced Laurie to pick me in the side, but that’s up to him so we’ll just have to wait and see in two weeks.
Sharks 18 (Sosaia Feki 2, Ricky Leutele tries; James Maloney 3 goals) def. Dragons 14 (Paul Vaughan, Russell Packer tries; Tim Lafai 3 goals) at UOW Jubilee Oval. Half-time: 6-8. Crowd: 15,927
Player of the Game:
3. Paul Vaughan
2. Jack Bird
- Russell Packer