Cronulla Sharks climb back into NRL top eight with late 18-12 derby win over St George Illawarra Dragons

Cronulla have climbed back into the top eight with a late 18-12 win over local rivals St George Illawarra.

It was a perfect Sunday afternoon in the shire for the Sharks as a controversial Bronson Xerri try with four minutes to play saw Cronulla retain the Monty Porter Cup and keep their semi-finals hopes alive.

More than 13,000 fans made their way to PointsBet Stadium for potentially the last derby clash between the sides in the shire until 2022.

The loss almost mathematically ended St George Illawarra's season, with the Dragons slumping to 14th place on 16 points - six outside the top eight with three games to play.

The Sharks meanwhile climbed to eighth ahead of Penrith on for and against. Cronulla host the New Zealand Warriors and top four hopefuls Canberra at Woolooware in the next two weeks before a potentially season-defining clash with the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval in the final round.

It was a messy first half low on quality but high on entertainment with both sides struggling to complete their sets, making a number of errors.

The Sharks were without Andrew Fifita with a knee injury, with the prop's absence allowing Cronulla Caringbah junior Billy Magoulias to make his second NRL appearance off the bench. Matt Moylan also returned from a head knock for the Sharks, while Jason Saab was a late scratching for the Dragons with a foot injury as Zac Lomax made a timely return to the side.

The Dragons were excellent in defence early as they repelled constant Cronulla attacks before they were finally broken just before midway point of half. Jayden Brailey ran out of dummy half, darted across field before grubber kicking for Aaron Woods to charge through and score under the posts.

Cronulla went back to back from the next set. Wade Graham made a break down field but couldn't link up with any support. A slick shift to the right a couple of plays later involving Shaun Johnson and Matt Moylan a couple of saw Sosaia Feki touch down in the corner, with Johnson's sideline conversion giving the Sharks a 12-0 lead.

The Sharks could have extended their lead further just before half hour mark. Xerri made another clean break from deep in Cronulla's half. The young centre slalomed his way through the Dragons defenders before drawing fullback Corey Norman, only for Johnson to drop the pass with the line wide open to butcher an almost certain try.

Completely against the run of play the Dragons hit back four minutes before half-time. Nothing appeared on down the right when Euan Aitken put in a hopeful low kick. But the ball took a sharp bounce left past Moylan, allowing Jackson Ford to race through and touch down for his first NRL try.

The Dragons lost Ben Hunt early in the second half to a head injury assessment after the halfback was caught by some friendly fire when Ford swung around after making a tackle and struck Hunt in the face with his boot.

Having also lost Patrick Kaufusi, the Dragons also lost Tyson Frizell to an HIA which severely hampered St George Illawarra's charge.

St George Illawarra went close to reducing the deficit further when Cronulla allowed a towering Gareth Widdop bomb to land, with the Sharks eventually doing well to hold Aitken up over the line.

Cronulla then lost Moylan 10 minutes into the second half with what Sharks coach John Morris called hamstring tightness, forcing a reshuffle of the Sharks' backline. The fullback had returned to the field after half-time with strapping on his knee, only to remove it two minutes later before succumbing to the problem.

The Dragons refused to quit and dragged themselves level with 16 minutes to play when Luciano Leilua crashed over from close range.

The Sharks went close to retaking the lead with 10 minutes remaining when Xerri looked certain to score, only for Cameron McInnes to produce a miraculous try-saving tackle.

Chad Townsend missed a field goal attempt from the ensuing play the ball but the Sharks would not be denied with four minutes remaining.

The Dragons allowed a Johnson bomb to bounce, the ball appearing to hit Wade Graham on the upper arm or shoulder and travel forward before falling kindly for Xerri who raced through to score untouched. After on-field match officials ruled a try, the officials in the video referee bunker upheld the decision to seal a gritty win for Cronulla.

Leader Scoreboard

Cronulla Sharks 18 (Aaron Woods, Sosaia Feki, Bronson Xerri tries. Shaun Johnson three goals)

defeated

St George Illawarra Dragons 12 (Jackson Ford, Luciano Leilua tries. Gareth Widdop two goals)

at PointsBet Stadium, Woolooware

Crowd: 13,652

Leader man of the match: Bronson Xerri (Sharks)

Sharks' next three: Warriors (home), Raiders (home), Tigers (away)

Dragons' next three: Roosters (home - Kogarah), Tigers (home - SCG), Titans (away)

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