St George Illawarra Dragons go down 26-20 to Canterbury Bulldogs to miss 2017 NRL finals

Gutted: Dragons centre Josh Dugan reacts to St George Illawarra's final round defeat to Canterbury. Picture: Daniel Munoz/AAP Image
Gutted: Dragons centre Josh Dugan reacts to St George Illawarra's final round defeat to Canterbury. Picture: Daniel Munoz/AAP Image

St George Illawarra have blown their shot at qualifying for the NRL finals, finishing ninth on the ladder after they threw away a late lead to lose 26-20 to Canterbury.

The result means North Queensland sneak into the finals in eighth place, despite losing five of their last six games.

The Dragons appeared in control when Gareth Widdop slotted a penalty goal with 18 minutes remaining to lead 20-14 at ANZ Stadium.

But the game was back level five minutes later when Will Hopoate broke downfield and put Aiden Tolman over.

Hooker Michael Lichaa then put the Bulldogs in the lead when he ducked and weaved his way over the tryline in the 73rd minute to give Canterbury a lead they never surrendered.

The off-contract rake had one of his best games during his three-year stint at Canterbury, and was particularly dangerous running the ball from dummy-half.

The Dragons tried valiantly to hit back in the last seven minutes but an inability to make last passes stick sealed their fate.

The Saints earlier worked their way back into the game after they trailed 14-6 late in the first half.

Winger Jason Nightingale narrowed the margin to two moments before the break, before fullback Matt Dufty lobbed up in support in the 54th minute to give the Dragons an 18-14 lead.

The loss means the Dragons are just the third team since the top-eight system was introduced to miss the finals after leading at the end of the seventh round.

They also have the highest for-and-against (+83) of any team to miss the finals in the 2000s.

Josh Reynolds' Canterbury farewell was short-lived after he injured his ankle in scoring the team's opening try.

He limped from the field in the 18th minute, and did not return.

Hopoate was also immense for the Bulldogs. He scored once and set up two others, and also held up Josh Dugan at a crucial moment midway through the second half.

The victory ensured the Bulldogs finish the season with three straight wins, and means Manly play Penrith and Cronulla face North Queensland in next week's elimination finals.

This story first appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald website.

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