PLENTY had already put a line through the Dragons finals hopes, but they can probably go over it in permanent marker after Paul McGregor's side squandered a 16-nil lead to go down 32-24 the Rabbitohs on Thursday.
The Dragons, headlined by Gerringong pair Tariq Sims and Jackson Ford, as well as Shellharbour's Euan Aitken, looked as good as they have all season to start the match, with livewire fullback Matt Dufty scoring two tries and laying on another for a lead that kept pace with the game clock in the first 16 minutes.
He ultimately also provided the assist for the try that got the Rabbitohs back into the match, with Alex Johnston grabbing an intercept and racing 90 metres for a try that proved the turning point in a thrilling opening stanza.
It followed the first of two tries to Nowra-born Cody Walker - who was outstanding after halves partner Adam Reynolds left the field with a neck injury just five minutes in.
It started a hit back that was in full swing when Latrell Mitchell put Johnston away with a beautiful long ball and backed up to score the try that locked things up three minutes before half-time.
There was no halting the comeback in the second half, with Johnston running in two tries and Walker grabbing his second to run away with the contest that was briefly locked up at 20-all following a try to Tyson Frizell.
It was where the Dragons resistance finished, with the fadeout squandering a chance to draw level with the Rabbitohs on the ladder, the same opportunity they let slip against the Sharks a week earlier.
It only gets more daunting, with a showdown with the Roosters in Wollongong awaiting them in six days' time and, beyond that, the Eels at Bankwest Stadium.
Should results fall with the favourites, the Dragons could find themselves at 4-10 and merely making up the numbers down the stretch of the season.
The Dragons had most of the early running, with Corey Norman swooping up a loose ball spilled by Reynolds in a heavy tackle from Sims, with Dufty looming in support for the opening four-pointer.
The length of the field effort cost the visitors Reynolds for the evening and gave the Dragons a 4-nil lead after six minutes. Dufty was in the action again five minutes later, laying on a try for Euan Aitken with bullet-like pass at close range.
The pair combined again just four minutes later, with Dufty again putting Aitken into space before supporting on the inside for his second try in 15 minutes. Lomax converted from in front for a 16-nil lead in what looked more like a contest with the clock.
Walker found the hit-back, shrugging off two defenders on a jinking run to the line from close range. Tries to Johnston and Mitchell followed, with the Dragons managing just one try in response, a 50-50 one for Frizell off a Ben-Hunt grubber to level the scores in the 52nd minute.
Lomax shanked his attempted conversion, again leaving the scores level at 20-all before Walker strolled across for his second try eight minutes later to re-take the lead.
The Dragons pressed hard for an equaliser but it came to nothing, with Johnston grabbing his second intercept try to seal the deal, this time courtesy of Tristan Sailor who waited until the final 10 minutes to get on the park.
Mitchell grabbed a penalty goal for a 12-point buffer, with Mikaele Ravalawa's 79th minute try little more than a consolation on a disappointing night.