Premiers Cronulla Sharks will open the 2017 National Rugby League Premiership when they take on Brisbane Broncos at a packed Southern Cross Group Stadium this Thursday.

LAST TIME OUT

Both sides flew the NRL flag at the recent World Club Series in the UK but came home with their tails between their legs.

Brisbane looked the more likely of the two to take victory against a Warrington team that missed out a week earlier on points at Catalans Dragons.  The Wire’s aggression put the Broncos off their game and resulted in going to the sheds 24-6 ahead.  Kevin Brown providing the inspiration for the home side with an outstanding performance.  A typical long distant try to James Roberts after the break reduced the margin but it was all Warrington in a shock win.

Cronulla faced Wigan Warriors at DW Stadium on a day that was about one man – Joe Burgess.  Back in the famous Cherry and White jersey, Burgess scored a hat-trick and in doing so reminded the NRL that he’s quality value.  To be fair the Sharks threw in a couple of rookies in Jesse Ramien and Jayden Brailey.  Ramien the only try scorer in a disappointing first hit-out for the Sharks.

Last year these teams met only once with Cronulla coming close to surrendering a 28-6 lead at half-time to hold on and win 30-28.

KEY BATTLE

There’s so much experience in the back row for both sides.  Luke Lewis, Wade Graham and Paul Gallen up against Sam Thiaday, Matt Gillett and Josh McGuire.  Talk around World Club Series time was a possible deal between Leeds and the Sharks to move on Luke Lewis for James Segeyaro.  That deal is dead in the water.  With ball security and emphasis on carting it through the middle in these early rounds, a high work rate will be required by these three to get the job done.

Big night for the halves.  James Maloney and Chad Townsend are coming off a high of winning last year’s title, Townsend the only junior in that Sharks outfit on Grand Final day.  They need to prove that they are still one of the best combinations in the game.  On the other hand Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt will need to prove that they are a worthy partnership despite the defection of Hunt to St George-Illawarra next year.  This game will go a long way to seeing how committed Hunt is to the cause and how the Broncos season unfolds.

PREDICTION

This will be your typical slog through the middle with both sides being a little under prepared with just one hit-out.  The loss of Corey Parker through retirement eliminates to some extend some the Broncos second phase play.  Home side to get the all important two points. As John Lang said once famously, the first two points of a season almost feel like four points.

Cronulla by 8

Who will win the opening NRL match?

SQUADS

Cronulla Sharks v Brisbane Broncos at Southern Cross Group Stadium, 8.05pm (AEDT) Thursday

Sharks: 1. Gerard Beale 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Jack Bird 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Edrick Lee 6. James Maloney 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Luke Lewis 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Jayson Bukuya 15. Chris Heighington 16. Sam Tagataese 17. Fa’amanu Brown 18. Tony Williams 19. Kurt Capewell 20. Daniel Mortimer 21. Valentine Holmes

Broncos: 1. Darius Boyd 2. Corey Oates 3. James Roberts 4. Tautau Moga 5. Jordan Kahu 6. Anthony Milford 7. Ben Hunt 8. Korbin Sims 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Adam Blair 11. Sam Thaiday 12. Matt Gillett 13. Josh McGuire 14. Alex Glenn 15. Tevita Pangai 16. Herman Ese’ese 17. Jai Arrow 18: David Mead 19: Joe Ofahengaue 20: Kodi Nikorima 21: George Fai