St George Illawarra slid out of the NRL top four as they fell to a 24-10 loss to Parramatta on Sunday.
The Dragons slipped to sixth place after their fifth defeat in their last seven games with Brisbane and Manly both climbing above them despite not playing this weekend thanks to their byes.
It was a disappointing performance from St George Illawarra – without their State of Origin stars Josh Dugan and Tyson Frizell – in that they had the better of a number of important statistics but were still well beaten.
The Dragons won the penalty count 5-1, made 20-less missed tackles, made four more line breaks and had more sets of six than the Eels. A frustrating afternoon at ANZ Stadium was best summed up by St George Illawarra conceding two tries while in possession.
Parramatta were in front after just 34 seconds when the two teams met in round two and it only took the Eels three minutes to take the lead this time around. Parramatta got lucky when a flick pass bounced back off Jack de Belin into the arms of Clinton Gutherson who sliced through to score.
The Eels almost scored again after 22 minutes when Bevan French crossed in the corner only for a Michael Jennings pass to be ruled forward.
Parramatta then lost Kaysa Pritchard when he had to be stretchered off with what looked to be a serious knee injury. The hooker was taken to hospital.
St George Illawarra began to find a foothold in the game but were unlucky to concede while on the attack. Kalifa Faifai Loa made a break down the left and attempted to kick back inside only for the ball to be blocked by Gutherson. The fullback scooped up the loose ball after a kind bounce and showed electric pace to fly 70 metres to score.
The Dragons reduced the deficit four minutes before half-time when Jason Nightingale, filling in at fullback for Dugan, produced a magical flick pass to put Nene Macdonald over in the corner.
But seven minutes after the break Parramatta again managed to score despite the Dragons being in possession. Joel Thompson went back to pick up a loose pass on halfway and had his arms pinned in a French tackle. Thompson lost the ball allowing Jennings to scoop it up and run 50 metres untouched.
Thompson appeared to be knocked out and had to be removed. The tough forward failed his head-injury assessment and did not return.
Parramatta looked to have had it wrapped up 10 minutes later when French scored from an early Mitchell Moses kick. Both he and Nightingale showed courage to contest the ball at pace, with the Eels winger just getting to it ahead of the Dragons veteran to touch down.
Paul Vaughan gave the Dragons a glimmer of hope when he showed great power to charge through some soft Eels defence close to their line to see St George Illawarra trail 24-10 with 15 minutes left.
But Parramatta did enough to see out the game and climb to the edge of the top eight.
The Dragons will look to bounce back when they host Newcastle at UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah on Sunday.
Parramatta Eels 24 (Clinton Gutherson two, Michael Jennings, Bevan French tries. Clinton Gutherson three, Mitchell Moses goals)
St George Illawarra Dragons 10 (Nene Macdonald, Paul Vaughan tries. Gareth Widdop goal)
at ANZ Stadium
Leader man of the match: Clinton Gutherson (Eels)
Dragons’ next three: Knights (home), Titans (away), BYE