Teenage Dragons halfback Jayden Sullivan enhanced his NRL claims but Braydon Trindall and Luke Metcalf inspired the Sharks to a 36-28 trial win on Friday night.
In the opening pre-season match, limited to those who played 12 or fewer first-grade games last year, Cronulla overcame a 22-20 half-time deficit to run out seven-tries-to-five winners at PointsBet Stadium.
Uncapped former Sea Eagle Metcalf, a Sharks junior who spent the game at fullback but can also play in the halves, produced three sublime try assists with pinpoint passing selection.
Halfback Trindall, with five NRL appearances to his name, displayed his skill set as he set up multiple tries and scored one himself.
But the first half belonged to St George Illawarra's Sullivan, the 19-year-old who debuted against Melbourne in round 20 last year.
Match Highlights: Sharks v Dragons
The talented playmaker conjured up the opening four-pointer with a delightful inside ball to fullback Tyrell Sloan, then crossed himself in the following set after supporting hooker Tyran Wishart – son of Steelers great Rod – on a long-range break.
Sullivan kicked well in general play and didn't shirk his task in defence, often leading the chase downfield.
He could come into contention for coach Anthony Griffin's round one team with incumbent five-eighth Corey Norman awaiting a possible sanction from the NRL Integrity Unit over an off-field incident.
"I thought our halves were really good in the first half, Sullivan and [Junior] Amone. It just got really scrappy and we only completed three sets until the last 20 minutes," Griffin said.
"But I was pretty happy with the halves. The way they managed our first 25-30 minutes. [Sullivan's] pass for the first try inside to Sloan. Amone's kick [to set up a try] was really classy.
"They just had some classy touches [and] physically they handle themselves. They've been really impressive at training and it was good to get out and watch them for the first time. They've really put themselves in the picture now."
Established names including Tariq Sims, Daniel Alvaro, Kaide Ellis, Brayden Wiliame and Jackson Ford ran around for the Dragons alongside fringe and NSW Cup players.
Wiliame was tested defensively in the centres while most of the big-name forwards only played around 20 minutes. Griffin said they would get more time against Parramatta in next week's hit-out.
Winger Nene Macdonald was Cronulla's most experienced man with lock Billy Magoulias, centre Mawene Hiroti, Trindall, and forwards Teig Wilton and Daniel Vasquez the only others to have played NRL.
Former Wigan Warriors forward Gabe Hamlin, who has signed with Sharks feeder team Newtown, came off the bench and set up a try.
Unselfish Hamlin hands a try to Trindall
Towering front-rower Tom Hazelton was another who caught the eye with several line-bending charges.
Metcalf did his chances of earning an official debut no harm with his silky performance - his first match since the NSW Cup competition was cancelled last March.
"I was pretty tired in the first 20 - I was blowing," Metcalf told NRL.com. "But once you get back into match fitness, you get back into the swing of things and it's not too bad."
Splitting his pre-season training between fullback and halfback, Metcalf said he doesn't have a preferred position.
Sullivan sets up Sloan
"I seriously don't mind. I've played in the halves my whole life, but fullback's pretty fun," he said. And with Matt Moylan expected to start the year at five-eighth, Metcalf could jostle with incumbent custodian Will Kennedy and playmaker Connor Tracey for the No.1 jersey.
"I'd never say no. I want to be in the team wherever it is, but I just want to focus on playing footy because I haven't played in 11 months. It was good to play tonight and whatever happens, happens," Metcalf said.
After St George Illawarra's hot start, Macdonald got Cronulla on the board by finishing a well-worked sweep play on the left edge.
Wilton hits a hole
But he then coughed up possession coming out of danger and Jaiyden Hunt pounced for the Dragons, extending their lead.
Cronulla edged closer when Trindall perfectly lofted a cut-out pass for former Knights and Warriors player Kayal Iro, son of former Kiwis player Kevin, to go over out wide.
The Sharks No.7 was involved as his team scored again, linking with the speedy Metcalf who found Wilton with a short ball. He showed great footwork to reach the in-goal.
"We practise those shapes all the time, so it's always good when they come off in the game," Metcalf said.
The end-to-end nature continued and the Dragons landed the next blow when Amone placed a grubber that impactful prop Josh Coric grounded in the nick of time.
Once more Metcalf came to the fore, shooting the Steeden to Macdonald's flank and the Papua New Guinean flyer grabbed a double against his former club prior to the break.
Hamlin busted the line to begin the second term and generously handed the ball back to Trindall, who had put him into a hole.
Metcalf kept up his impressive night with another long ball that sent Iro over for a double.
Hiroti pushed Cronulla further ahead before Connor Muhleisen burrowed his way over from dummy-half for St George Illawarra's only second-half points.