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Sharks dent Dragons NRL top eight hopes

St George Illawarra are adamant they can reignite their NRL campaign despite a big dent in their top eight chances courtesy of a 28-8 loss to Cronulla.

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Missing a host of key players including Benji Marshall, Trent Merrin and Josh Dugan, they suffered their fifth loss in a row in front of 12,792 fans at Remondis Stadium on Sunday.

The Sharks jumped into ninth – only outside the eight on for-and-against – but admit they still remain a work in progress after failing to put the Dragons to the sword earlier.

The Dragons were missing 13 of their top 25 including Merrin (suspension), Marshall (hamstring), Dugan (arm), Joel Thompson (hamstring), Tyson Frizell (back) and Dylan Farrell (back).

on the flip side, the return of NSW stars Paul Gallen and Michael Ennis was telling for the Sharks as they burst out of the blocks for a 16-0 lead after 28 minutes.

Luke Lewis celebrated his 250th NRL match by scoring one of his side’s three first-half tries.

The Sharks committed a cardinal sin – letting in a try just before halftime to Charly Runciman – to allow the Dragons back into the contest.

The second half turned into an arm wrestle and the Dragons weren’t without their chances.

They could have gotten within striking distance after front-rower and skipper Ben Creagh charged onto a ball close to the line however utility Ben Barba pulled off one of the try-savers of the season – albeit one he was penalised for, having lifted above the horizontal.

The Sharks did enough in the end, icing the game via Andrew Fifita – who was a standout running for a game-high 203 metres – and Barba. Yet they were far from convincing.

“There were periods where we showed our dominance and we went 100 metres in sets,” Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan said.

“The first try was a nice try, it was well-constructed.

“(They played to their best) in patches but it’s not quite there. I can’t wait until we put 80 minutes together. We haven’t done that all year. We’re getting closer every week.”

Dugan, Marshall and Thompson are likely to return against Canberra next week and coach Paul McGregor predicted the inclusion of some key players would have a big impact on his side.

Having slid from first spot six weeks ago, the Dragons will end the round in seventh as one of four teams on 20 points, equal with the Sharks.

Alarmingly, they have scored just 62 points in their last five matches but McGregor said they were not a spent force.

“Momentum and confidence have a lot to do with winning and losing,” McGregor said.

“We’ve got to get that intent back, quick.

“There’s still a lot of footy to be played and there’s eight weeks to go. To make the top eight you’ve probably got to win four of them, maybe five. To make the top four you’ve got to win six maybe seven.

“We’ve done it before – won eight out of nine.”

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