St George Illawarra's end-of-season fade out has ended in heartache, the Dragons missing the NRL finals after a 26-20 loss to Canterbury on Sunday.
A win would've put the Dragons in the playoffs, but instead Paul McGregor's men became just the third team since the top-eight system was introduced in 1995 to miss the finals after leading at the end of the seventh round.
"I'm gutted; absolutely shattered," McGregor said.
"It shouldn't have come down to today but it did.
"We let a team that couldn't score points put 26 on us. It's not good enough."
The result means North Queensland sneak into the finals in eighth place, despite losing five of their last six games.
They'll play Cronulla, while Manly will host Penrith in the other elimination final.
The Dragons had appeared in control and finals bound when Gareth Widdop slotted a penalty goal with 18 minutes remaining to lead 20-14 at ANZ Stadium.
But the game was back level when Will Hopoate broke downfield to put Aiden Tolman over, and Canterbury suddenly had the lead in the 73rd minute when hooker Michael Lichaa ducked and weaved over from dummy-half.
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 the ruck.
The Dragons tried valiantly to hit back in the last seven minutes but an inability to make last passes stick sealed their fate.
The loss means they finish the season with the highest for-and-against (+83) of any team to miss the finals this century, aside from those stripped points for salary cap breaches.
"It proves we can defend and we can attack, we're just not winning close games," McGregor said.
"There were six sides this year that come to mind that could've went each way, and we didn't win any of them."
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 just prior to the break, before fullback Matt Dufty lobbed up in support in the 54th minute to give the Dragons an 18-14 lead.
Their advantage could've been at least eight had Josh Dugan not been held up over the line by Hopoate, who was immense for Canterbury with a try and two assists.
Meanwhile Josh Reynolds' Bulldogs farewell was short-lived after he injured his ankle in scoring the team's opening try. He tried to play on but didn't return after he left the field in the 18th minute.
"It wasn't about me, it wasn't about individuals, it was about getting that win," Reynolds said.
"For all those rounds you play you want to win those games. I'm just really glad the boys come home in the end."click here for full story...