Paul Vaughan goes over for the Dragons.
Paul Vaughan goes over for the Dragons.

Dragons keep finals hopes alive with thrilling win

ST GEORGE Illawarra overcame the dumping of Josh Dugan to keep their finals hopes alive with a gutsy 16-14 win over Penrith.

The ninth-placed Dragons needed to simply win to stay in touch with the top eight and will need to do so again next week against Canterbury - and hope other results go their way - to ensure they're still playing footy in September.

The Red V's day got off to a controversial start after the senior playing group decided to drop Dugan for missing the team bus for the foot of the mountains.

Dugan's absence sparked a reshuffle with Josh McCrone starting at halfback and Kurt Mann moving to the centres.

But despite the late changes, Paul McGregor's men showed great resolve to prevail in wet, windy conditions in front of 18,848 fans at Pepper Stadium.

While the Dragons have plenty to celebrate on their way back to Wollongong, the Panthers are licking their wounds after fullback Dylan Edwards suffered a potentially serious knee injury which forced Dallin Watene-Zelezniak into the custodian role for the remainder of the game.

The young fullback suffered a suspected medial ligament injury in the first half and failed to return after the break with his side 12-8 down.

The Dragons started the game the more enthusiastic of the two and were rewarded with first points when Paul Vaughan charged over.

The visitors had other chances early on but two big defensive plays from Tyrone Peachey kept them at bay.

The Panthers hit back in the 29th minute when Tyrone May dummied and stepped his way over under the sticks.

A Nathan Cleary penalty goal in the 35th minute extended the home side's lead before Red V fullback Matt Dufty used his pure speed to dive over before the halftime siren.

Following a Waqa Blake blunder after the break, the Dragons had a great chance to extend their lead, but a pass from Sims to Mann floated forward.

The error proved costly with the Panthers marching down field and scoring through Josh Mansour.

Sims' huge one-on-one strip on Watene-Zelezniak gave the Red V the lead which they were able to hold.

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 16 (M Dufty T Sims P Vaughan tries G Widdop 2 goals) bt PENRITH 14 (J Mansour T May tries N Cleary 3 goals) at Pepper Stadium. Referee: Gerard Sutton, Ben Cummins. Crowd: 18,848.

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