Canterbury Bulldogs coach Des Hasler put his side's 9-8 loss down to the 65th minute four-pointer to Cronulla Sharks centre Gerard Beale on Saturday night.
Despite a weight of possession against the visitors for the entire contest, the Bulldogs' improved defence in 2017 was again on display after restricting the home side to just the one try and pulling off three try-saving efforts on the defensive line.
With a combined seven players missing from both sides, Hasler knew his depleted outfit could match it with the Sharks and had always expected for a close encounter.
"It can be a cruel game and it was one set in the second half that was crucial – it was a 100-metre set [for the Beale try]," Hasler said post-game.
"For most facets of the game I thought we competed better but the result is on the scoreboard so it's insignificant.
"Our kicking game was ineffective in the second half and that's all it was.
"When you look at it like that and this period [of the year] is about Origin and trying to get these wins any possible way you can, I thought tonight's game was always going to go down to the wire."
IT'S a battle for the title of Best in the West when rivals the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Penrith Panthers unleash at ANZ Stadium.
The Bulldogs were reduced to 16 players midway through the opening half when skipper James Graham was forced from the field after succumbing to injury.
"He's got a neck injury but he will be okay," Hasler said.
"He was okay during the week, I don't think it is anything major and we've got a long turnaround until Sunday and we will need it with a few [others] banged up."
Front-row partner Aiden Tolman admitted the loss of Graham was not ideal but said the side rallied well to cover their captain's high work rate.
Tolman himself produced an 80-minute effort with over 148 metres from 21 carries in the defeat.
"He's (Graham) our leader and was a huge loss but some of our boys stood up and did some special things tonight which kept us in the game," Tolman said.
"For 70 minutes we were on top and as Des said, there was one set where they got the better of us and it shows the quality side they are.
"They hang in there and take their opportunities."
With three-straight losses now on the board, the Bulldogs will be sweating on the fitness of Graham and the NSW Blues trio of David Klemmer, Josh Jackson and Brett Morris for their clash with the Penrith Panthers next Sunday.
Injured five-eighth Josh Reynolds is still scheduled to miss at least another fortnight with a hamstring injury but could also be a chance of an early return.
"The last three games we've lost you can't question our effort but it's only going to keep you in games, not necessarily win them," Tolman said.
"There are a few things we definitely need to improve on."