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Cronulla all but booked their passage into the Auckland Nines quarter finals with a 17-8 win over the Dragons.

Chad Townsend showed surprising pace to open the scoring from a Sam Tagataese offload. Dragons centre Euan Aitken, who proved a handful in both Dragons games on Saturday, finished off a long-range St George Illawarra try down the right edge to get his side on the board.

A show-and-go from Ben Barba, running wide inside his own half, saw him slice through the line and it looked very much the 2012 version of the former Bulldogs fullback who raced away to score to put the Sharks up 10-4. Aitken then bagged his double when he chased down a Kurt Mann kick to get back to 10-8 at half-time.

There were dramas midway through the second half – a strong Tyrone McCarthy offload ended with Kalifa Faifai Loa running in to score but the winger was almost bundled dead as he tried to earn a bonus point. The referees denied the try although replays suggested he had still grounded it safely. It was a key decision – a likely five-point lead for the Dragons turning into a two-point deficit.

The Sharks rubbed salt in the wound as Gerard Beale finished off a long-range movement in the bonus zone in the final minute to cap a 17-8 win, effectively ending the Dragons' chances of progressing to the knockout stages.

Faifai Loa was philosophical about the referees' decision to deny what had appeared to be a fair try.

"I know what happened. But it's alright they called it how they saw it. I knew what I was doing though but it didn't pay off I suppose," Faifai Loa told

"We'll just look forward to tomorrow now where I can get to play my ex-team (the Titans).

"We made mistakes too so if we didn't do that then we would've come up with two decent wins."

The result means the Sharks remain on track for another strong Nines campaign, having reached the final in 2015.

"We have had a bit of success so far and the boys are having a bit of fun so we're looking to go one better than last year," Chad Townsend told 

"The support when I was playing for the Warriors is unbelievable, they really get behind the team. Being on the opposite side of the fence is different but it's something I'm still able to enjoy."

Cronulla Sharks 17 (Townsend, Barba, Beale tries) def St George Illawarra Dragons 8 (Aitken 2 tries).


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