A brave second half fightback from St George Illawarra was not enough as the Dragons went down 20-10 to the Sydney Roosters in their ANZAC Day clash on Thursday.
More than 38,000 fans packed into the Sydney Cricket Ground for the traditional contest as the Dragons looked to extend their four-game winning streak.
They made it hard for themselves. St George Illawarra trailed 14-0 at half-time and could have been completely out of the game given the Roosters' first half dominance.
The reigning premiers enjoyed almost 70 per cent of possession in the first 40 minutes. The Dragons had less than eight minutes of the first half with the ball in their hands - and when they did have it they completed their sets at just 63 per cent.
That allowed the Roosters to run for 638 metres more than the Dragons and make 97 fewer tackles. From there you thought it would be the Roosters who would go on with the job, with the Dragons running on empty tanks.
But just as they have in a number of games this season when not at their best, the Dragons simply refused to quit.
Within 12 minutes of the second half they had it back to 14-10 after tries to Zac Lomax and Matt Dufty - the diminutive fullback scoring what will be one of the individual tries of the season.
The Dragons lost Ben Hunt to a shoulder injury - a suspected bad cork - in the final 10 minutes and the Roosters took advantage to finally seal the result with three minutes to play.
It was cruel on Dufty who had been excellent. Running the ball out from his own end after fielding a kick, the excellent Jack Friend dislodged the ball with a textbook tackle.
Siosiua Taukeiaho scooped up the loose ball and danced between James Graham and Jacob Host to race 20 metres and score under the posts.
It was a tough way for the Dragons to lose. It had been an afternoon when luck, the bounce of the ball and some 50-50 decisions had gone against them. At the same time they were often their own worst enemy, making a number of errors in their own half and not making the most of their opportunities.
It had been 27 degrees at kick off as the Dragons looked to continue their impressive ANZAC Day record.
Latrell Mitchell gave the reigning premiers the lead after three minutes with a penalty goal before the Dragons had a Tyson Frizell try disallowed after Ben Hunt was ruled to have made a tackle in the air.
It was to be a 12-point swing, with the Roosters storming down field. Daniel Tupou contested a Cooper Cronk bomb with Lomax before finding Mitchell to score.
Mitchell looked to have a second try shortly after, only for it to be disallowed when Boyd Cordner was adjudged to have obstructed Host.
The Dragons then had their own try disallowed, with Euan Aitken's pass to Lomax ruled forward before the young winger dived over in the corner.
The game then swung back to the Roosters when Friend nailed a 40-20 out of dummy half.
From the ensuing set Angus Crichton isolated Corey Norman on the try line and charged over the five-eighth to score.
The Dragons needed a response after half-time and got it almost immediately. Attacking the Roosters' line, Hunt shaped to kick before making a late decision to run on the last tackle. The halfback fired a perfect cut out pass to Aitken whose quick hands found Lomax to score in the corner.
They were in again four minutes later. Rugby league has been played at the SCG for many years but Dufty's solo try will be considered the equal of any that came before it at the famous old ground.
The Penshurst RSL junior was handed the ball 60m from the Roosters' try line with nothing on and a set defensive line in front of him. A shimmy, a step and an explosion of speed and Dufty was into the back field.
He turned James Tedesco inside out before storming past Cronk to score next to the posts for what he described as the best try of his career. His coach Paul McGregor described it as "absolutely brilliant".
The Dragons had some late chances to take the lead. A Paul Vaughan break and a break down the left side involving Pereira and Mikaela Ravalawa could have resulted in points.
But the Roosters held firm and took their own opportunity through Taukeiaho to secure the result late on.
Sydney Roosters 20 (Latrell Mitchell, Angus Crichton, Siosiua Taukeiaho tries. Latrell Mitchell four goals)
St George Illawarra Dragons 10 (Zac Lomax, Matt Dufty tries. Zac Lomax goal)
at Sydney Cricket Ground
Leader man of the match: Jake Friend (Roosters)
Dragons' next three: Eels (away), Warriors (away), Knights (home - Mudgee)