The St George Illawarra Dragons were defeated 17-8 by the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks at Eden Park, Auckland on Saturday.
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.
St George Illawarra Dragons 8. Tries: Aitken (2).
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 17. Tries: Townsend, Barba, Beale.