CRONULLA start their premiership defence as slight outsiders when they host Brisbane in the opening game of the season.
Sharkies fans will be keen to see the champs get off to a good start to 2017 much in the same way they began last season.
It is noteworthy to recall that the Sharks lost two of their first three games, however, went on a tremendous unbeaten run spanning 16 games from Round 4 until losing to Canberra in Round 22.
No team has gone back-to-back since BRISBANE BRONCOS did in 1992/93 and again in 1997/98 (Super League included) so it is ironic that the Sharks face that same team here to kick things off in 2017.
HOME GROUND ADVANTAGE
CRONULLA built their charge towards the Grand Final off the back of a superb home record at Shark Park last year.
They won 11 of their 12 home games with the solitary loss coming to Canberra in Round 22. Brisbane were one of the teams that fell at this very venue last year although it was a very thrilling 30-28 result in Round 9.
Looking back on the past season and the Sharks were definitely in their element in front of their home fans, which isn’t uncommon for most teams, scoring over 30 points on five occasions including 37 against the Roosters in Round 25.
NEW LOOK BRONCOS
Brisbane will begin this season with a few familiar faces missing from their line-up.
Arguably their biggest loss will be inspirational captain Corey Parker while Jack Reed is missing from the centres .
Their biggest recruit in terms of reputation, Benji Marshall, hasn’t been named in the 21-man squad so fans will have to wait to see him make his proper NRL debut for the Broncos.
While plenty can happen in the off-season, Brisbane can be known for quick starts to a season and last year was no different. How can we forget how irresistible they looked in the opening 10 rounds? They lost just twice during that span and they were only narrow one and two point defeats to Penrith and Cronulla respectively?
Cronulla has the upper hand here with four wins in their past five games.
When looking at previous clashes at Shark Park the reading is much better for the Broncos with three wins out of their past four, however, they did drop the last one.
This is could go either way.
Cronulla have had a long pre-season already and competed in the World Club Challenge in the UK where they lost to English Super League champs Wigan nearly a fortnight ago.
Adding to the task here is that they now become the hunted rather than the hunter, as is the case whenever a team wins competitions or silverware of any kind.
Three big pieces of their Grand Final winning side are also missing in Ben Barba, Michael Ennis and Valentine Holmes, with the latter out due to injury and the other two no longer at the club.
Cronulla definitely won’t want to let their fans down in their first game back at Shark Park since winning the Grand Final over Melbourne, so expect to see them charge out of the blocks for this one.
They may get a favour from the Broncos themselves if stats are anything to go by though. Last season, Brisbane were 6-6 away from Suncorp which was equally the worst of any of the top eight teams. If they are to make another serious charge at the title then they have to learn to win away from home but without the experienced Parker calling the shots, are they likely to improve that stat?
MATCH WINNER TIP: CRONULLA SHARKS
FIRST TRYSCORER: SIOSIA FEKI
MARGIN BETTING: CRONULLA SHARKS 1-12
OTHER TIP: CRONULLA SHARKS TO SCORE FIRST TRY