THE Dragons had looked all at sea, twice
But it was two players from contrasting backgrounds who inspired their side to a 30-22 victory over the Storm in front of more than 2700 supporters at Jubilee Oval.
It was St George Illawarra's final game of the season and their seventh win in 2020.
With his side conceding eight points in the opening 12 minutes, it was Cody Ramsey - in just his third match - who sparked the Red V into action by setting up their opening try.
And then, trailing 16-12 midway through the second half, it was inspirational captain Cameron McInnes - in his 130th game - who lifted his team with two try assists in quick succession.
The Dragons, featuring Group Seven's Tariq Sims, Jackson Ford, Adam Clune and Euan Aitken, then had to survive a late scare when Nicho Hynes dived over to score. However, a try in the final two minutes by Tyson Frizell put the result beyond doubt.
While pleased to finish the year on a high, McInnes told Australian Community Mediathat he mixed emotions about the victory.
"There's been some good performances, and then too many that weren't good enough," he said.
"To lose Mary [former coach Paul McGregor] through the year was tough but I was happy that the boys went out and got the job done today. There were a lot of young guys who got an opportunity and I thought they did themselves proud.
"But every year is a new year. It's great to finish this year with that [win], but next year we start from scratch and we need to build something. For the young guys, it would have been a very good experience to get a little taste of what it takes and they can build off that. "
However, McInnes admitted he was frustrated to miss out on a shot at that elusive premiership win.
"I'm pretty gutted that it's the end of the season to be honest," McInnes said.
"I'm only 26 but every year that you don't win that comp or get close is another lost opportunity. As much as it was a great way to finish off, I'm still pretty disappointed that we couldn't go further. But we'll have to move on and get ready for next year."
Both teams headed into Sunday's game knowing there was little on the line. No matter the result, the Storm couldn't slip from second spot and St George Illawarra was stuck in 13th position.
The Storm rested a host of stars for the clash, including Cameron Smith, Cameron Munster and Josh Addo-Carr, while the Dragons line-up included debutants Jayden Sullivan and Eddie Blacker.
The Dragons had most of the early momentum on the back of three penalties, but they couldn't capitalise with points.
And it was the Storm who drew first blood within 10 minutes. Electric fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen used his pace to find some space, with a draw-and-lass setting up centre Paul Momorovski to score the first try.
Papenhuyzen missed the conversion and the vistors led 4-nil.
Just minutes later, the Storm were able to double their advantage.
A Ryley Jacks bomb was missed by Cody Ramsey, with the ball batted back towards the Storm and a movement finishing in the hands of Sandor Earl who scored in the corner. Papenhuyzen again missed the conversion.
Soon after, the Dragons managed to find a bit of space near the halfway line, however, Adam Clune's cutout pass towards Max Fegai missed the target.
The Storm made them pay immediately for the error. A lovely slide of hands found Chris Lewis, who beat his opponent to dash away and score out wide. Again, Papenhuyzen's conversion attempt was wayward but the Storm led 12-nil.
However, it was the Dragons who finally sprung to life to post the next points of the game in the 23rd minute.
A lovely slide of hands led to Cody Ramsey grubbering the ball forward, which was then toed inwards by Zac Lomax and Matt Dufty scooped up the ball to score his 12th try of the season.
Lomax nailed the conversion and the home side trailed 12-6.
There was controversy in the 28th minute when Storm's Max Bailey was put on report for a dangerous tackle on Blake Lawrie.
Soon after, it was the Storm who were able to hit back on the scoreboard. Cooper Johns put in a clever grubber, noticing that Feagai had rushed up in defence, with winger Isaac Lumelume collecting the ball and scoring in the corner.
Papenhuyzen again missed the conversion - his fourth miss of the half - but Melbourne held a 16-6 advantage.
From the kickoff, forward Darryn Schonig was unable to control possession, giving the Dragons a great chance inside their attacking 20m.
And they capitalised, with a beautiful pass from Dufty opening up space for Tyson Frizell to dash away and score. Lomax nailed the conversion and, despite conceding four tries, the Dragons only trailed by 16-12 in the 35th minute.
With two minutes left, a Frizell offload opened up the opportunity for Dufty to put in a grubber kick. Lumelume recovered in time to grab possession, however, he was trapped by Dufty in-goal.
From the dropout, the Dragons moved the ball from side to side before it was dropped by Lomax.
The Storm looked dangerous on the counter-attack, with Brandon Smith finding space up the middle. Jacks put up a threatening bomb on the siren, however, the Dragons defused the situation.
Melbourne held a 16-12 advantage at the break.
It was a fairly tame start to the second half as neither side tried anything adventurous in attack.
A nice pass from Frizell found Sullivan in space, however, the Storm were able to close that play down. After receiving a penalty, the Dragons' attack looked threatening before Sullivan dropped the ball.
But that was a rare highlight in the first 15 minutes after half time.
On the back of a penalty, the Dragons were able to get into their attacking 20m. A nice grubber by Sullivan on the last tackle forced a Storm dropout.
From the ensuing set, a smart kick from dummy half saw Lomax dive towards the ball, however, he was pushed out of the way by Storm centre Ricky Leutele.
The play was deemed illegal by the video referee and the Dragons were awarded a penalty try. Lomax nailed the conversion and the home side led 18-16 with 21 minutes remaining.
From the kickoff, McInnes was able to find space through the middle and his short pass to Dufty set up the No.1 to score his second try of the day.
Lomax again converted and the Dragons extended their advantage to 24-16.
However, the Storm refused to give in. A clever little kick by Hynes inside his attacking 20m saw him regather possession and score under the posts.
Hynes converted his own try to cut the deficit back to 24-22.
Both teams had chances to score late in the game, however, the Dragons were able to seal victory when Sullivan's kick set up Frizell to dive over for his second try.
Sunday's match marked the last in the Red V for Shellharbour's Euan Aitken.
We depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.