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The St George Illawarra Dragons have been pipped 18-16 by the Canterbury Bulldogs in controversial fashion at WIN Stadium tonight.
Touch judge Steve Nash reported Dragons captain Lance Thompson for obstruction late in the first half and from the ensuing penalty Bulldogs centre Ben Harris scored when replays clearly indicated no such event occurred.
To compound things for the red and whites Harris crossed again in quick time blowing the halftime score out to 18-4 when by all rights it should have been just 6-4.
Bulldog Johnathan Thurston put a grubber through with approximately two minutes left in the first stanza and then appeared to run straight into Thompson before taking a dive.
Referee Paul Simpkins called play on but when Ben Hornby cleaned up Nash entered the field of play to report Thompson.
Thompson was understandably filthy with the decision and he was well backed up by coach Nathan Brown.
“You've got a bloke whose two metres away who lets it go and you've got a bloke whose 20 metres away who wants to make a decision. It makes me laugh. Who's running the game?” Thompson queried.
“He said I deliberately went out of my way to drop my shoulder into Thurston.”
Brown was straight to the point.
“I haven't got $10,000,” Brown said in reference to NRL guidelines that invoke a fine for bringing the game into disrepute.
“I've got plenty of blokes who want to throw money in so I do say it. Everyone knows what happened.”
The Dragons were seething on plenty of calls but admitted they still had plenty of chances to win the contest.
“You still have to be good enough to overcome bad decisions,” Brown said.
“Last week Joe Montana threw it to Preston Campbell, we've got to get one soon, 50/50 is all we're after.”
“Not only that decision but maybe a few more,” Thompson said.
“I thought maybe the Gasnier decision were he jumped up and went for the ball and he said that Patten got tackled in mid-air. I thought that was a scratchy decision but if your playing well enough then you take the referee out of the occasion,” he added.
Thompson was referring to an 18th minute call by Simpkins, which called back a try from Amos Roberts after Patten had spilled the ball in his in goal.
Replays suggested Simpkins may have at least asked video referee Phil Cooley to scrutinise the movement but it was not to be.
Earlier the Bulldogs had jumped to a 6-0 lead after just three minutes when Travis Norton pounced on a Brent Sherwin grubber.
But Dragons halfback Brett Firman grabbed vital field position with a booming 40/20 and Brent Kite crashed over on 11 minutes to get within two points.
Shaun Timmins, playing at five-eighth for the injured Trent Barrett, gifted Kite a free passage to the line with a deft short ball.
Defence dominated for the next 25 minutes before the controversy unfolded.
John Cross began a spirited Dragons comeback when he streaked over after 55 minutes and Roberts converted.
But two crucial moments involving Timmins followed. With the line wide open he attempted to pass to Matt Cooper only to see El Masri knock it down and then he was penalised for a double movement while trying to score.
His luck turned with just five minutes left on the clock when Cooley awarded him a try ensuring a bumper finish at 18-16.
But when a Jason Ryles kicked ended up in touch in the final seconds the Bulldogs had got out of jail.
“If we were good enough to win at the death then we would have scored again but Canterbury were good enough to hang in there,” Brown said.
“Our effort was great. If we had of put that effort in last week we would have won. If we could have scored with five minutes to go we wouldn't have worried about what happened in the middle.”
Asked whether or not the dusty call had affected morale Brown said he was impressed with his senior players attitudes.
“The boys were good (at halftime). A couple of things went against us but we could go out there and whinge or we could go out there and stick it up him, and we went out and had a go,” he said.
“I think the Canterbury players would agree if we turned up with that attitude every week then we'd be some chance of doing well this year.”
“Timmo was great. All the blokes who backed up from city v country played super. Its one thing to play rep football but to be able to back up a day later for the club shows they've got pride in the club.”
CANTERBURY BULLDOGS 18 (B Harris 2, T Norton tries; H El Masri 3 goals) d. ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 16 (B Kite, J Cross, S Timmins tries; A Roberts, M Riddell goals) Crowd: 11,555