St George Illawarra made a statement to the rest of the NRL Nines, thrashing local rivals Cronulla 27-5 in their tournament opener in Perth on Friday night.
The Dragons scored 27 unanswered points as they dominated a strong Sharks side, with Josh Kerr scoring twice.
St George Illawarra halfback Ben Hunt was outstanding while Tristan Sailor will have excited Dragons fans with a number of quality touches including one superb long range try.
The Dragons, who have never made it out of the group stage in the Nines format, are now in the box seat with only one group game remaining on Saturday and a healthy for and against after blowing Cronulla away.
St George Illawarra face pre-tournament favourites Parramatta on Saturday with a win enough to secure their passage to the knockout rounds. The Eels were upset 13-10 by Canterbury and need victory over the Dragons to keep their campaign alive.
The Sharks had high hopes of a good showing at the tournament after coach John Morris named a strong squad. But despite dominating the opening stages they were no match for the slick Dragons.
Cronulla face the Bulldogs in their final group match on Saturday with anything less than a convincing win likely to end their tournament.
With the temperature surpassing 33 degrees at kick off in the Dragons-Sharks clash at HBF Park it appeared a fast start would be crucial.
And Cronulla got it as they enjoyed a monopoly on possession before Sione Katoa opened the scoring with a bonus point try after a slick midfield move featuring Shaun Johnson, Aaron Woods, Blayke Brailey and Briton Nikora.
Chad Townsend missed the kick from in front to leave the Sharks with a 5-0 lead.
But that was as good as it got for Cronulla as St George Illawarra ran riot.
A Sailor grubber kick saw Kerr touch down before a Tyson Frizell offload led to Tyrell Fuimaono putting the Dragons in front 8-5 at half-time.
Hunt then laid on a bonus point try for new Dragons captain Cameron McInnes shortly after the break before Sailor showed his speed after slicing through Cronulla's line on halfway and racing away to score.
Kerr then put the icing on the cake with his second try following a brilliant early grubber kick from Hunt.
The Dragons weren't done though. With Ronaldo Mulitalo looking certain to score for Cronulla from a Katoa cross-field kick, it was a desperate tackle from returning veteran Jason Nightingale that saved a try and kept St George Illawarra's 22-point margin in tact.
"The boys were unreal. We just defended well, got our sets moving and managed to score off the back of it," Sailor told Fox Sports.
"This is what this format is for. If that hole opens up it's perfect for us little blokes to showcase our speed."
St George Illawarra Dragons 27 (Josh Kerr, Tyrell Fuimaono tries. Cameron McInnes, Tristan Sailor, Josh Kerr bonus point tries. Ben Hunt, Tristan Sailor goals)
Cronulla Sharks 5 (Sione Katoa bonus point try)
at HBF Park, Perth
Round two Saturday fixtures
Sharks vs Bulldogs 3pm
Dragons vs Eels 3.25pm
All times AEST