Prop Andrew Fifita completed a Cronulla miracle with a last-minute try delivering the Sharks their first win in Wollongong since 1989 with a 22-18 defeat of St George Illawarra on Saturday night.
Seemingly down and out after Todd Carney had missed a sideline conversion with six minutes remaining that would have locked it up at 18-all, Fifita produced a Houdini act with a brilliant display of pace to spark delirious celebrations.
A last-ditch Carney kick was fumbled by the Dragons, Fifita toeing ahead the dregs and then out-sprinting Jason Nightingale – just – to score with 54 seconds left on the clock.
The Sharks were trailing 18-6 with just over half an hour remaining when Isaac De Gois darted over to spark the revival.
The stunning come-from-behind win keeps Cronulla out of the dog fight for positions in the lower end of the top eight and maintains their slim top-four hopes.
They will need to play much better though to be a factor in the finals, having come up with 17 errors in a largely poor performance in which they completed at just over 50 per cent.
But they don’t give out points for statistics, and the Sharks came out on top where it mattered most having been given a scare by a big brother missing its two best players with NSW Origin reps Trent Merrin and Josh Dugan both sitting on the sidelines.
The Dragons ambushed the visitors with two tries in the opening seven minutes, Brett Morris and Jason Nightingale taking turns at setting the other up for four pointers.
Cronulla hit back via Ben Pomeroy, the Dragons lucky to extend their lead when a Adam Quinlan pass was touched by Ryan into the head of Charly Runciman – Morris picking up the lose ball to dive over for his second just inside the corner post.
The Dragons were lucky not to have someone binned as they held out the Sharks just before the break, but they couldn’t stop the late avalanche – with Ryan scoring six minutes from fulltime to set up a thrilling finish.
Carney’s missed conversion – just his third miss from 39 attempts in 2013 – looked like costing his side before Fifita’s late heroics.
“I just kicked it and hoped for the best,” Fifita said of his late try.
“I saw Nightingale, I thought I was going to get burned, but I never gave up and got there in the end.”
For coach Shane Flanagan, the win was retribution, but didn’t mask his side’s deficiencies.
“Probably after last week (against Newcastle) losing in the last minute and then tonight winning – if there’s a football god out there it all evened up,” Flanagan said.
“I don’t know if I’m happy or a little numb.
“We were awful with the ball. We gifted the Dragons field position, gifted them points.”
For Dragons coach Steve Price it was a tough defeat to swallow.
“The footy gods weren’t on our side tonight,” he said.
“We were clearly the better team for the game I thought, that lucky try right at the death, it’s tough to take.”