Cowboys in the way of Sharks' improved start
Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen can't wait for a rematch against the side that knocked the Sharks out of the 2015 premiership race – eventual premiers North Queensland – but he knows the World Club Champions will present a stern test as Cronulla looks to improve on their 0-4 start from last season.
The scars from Cronulla's huge 39-0 loss in the semi finals last year clearly still burn and a Round 1 re-match in Townsville can't come soon enough for Gallen.
"I went up into that Cowboys game thinking we'd win, I was really confident we'd get them that night and they absolutely hammered us," Gallen said.
After losing their first four straight to start 2015 before eventually recovering to fall one win short of a top-four finish, the Sharks will need to get past the Cowboys if they are to make a brighter start to 2016.
"We know we've got to start well and we've got the biggest challenge against the best team in the world at the moment, the Cowboys, so it will be a good start for us up there," Gallen said.
"It'll be a good test for us. As we saw last year with the Rabbitohs [who won the Auckland Nines and World Club Challenge], last year's premiers are generally a week or two in front of everyone because they've had a couple of trial games then into the World Club Challenge... I'm sure it'll be a tough game for us but we'll be there to win."
Gallen said there was nothing his team could take from that season-ending loss to North Queensland despite the fact the Cowboys will field an identical or near identical team.
"Absolutely nothing. I went up there thinking we could win, we beat them twice throughout the year and we got absolutely smashed. No excuses, they played better than us in every area and there's not a lot we can take out of it, they dominated everywhere," he said.
Gallen said the Sharks could ill-afford to start as poorly as they did last season and rely on a similar late-season recovery.
"Zero and four was a big hole to come back from but we managed to do it which was a positive, but... just because we went well at the back end of last year doesn't mean we will again this year."
One factor that will be key to Cronulla starting stronger than last season is their completely revamped playmaking roster clicking early. James Maloney and Chad Townsend form a new halves combination and last year's five-eighth Jack Bird is vying for the fullback role with Ben Barba.
"They're definitely coming together," Gallen said.
"Hopefully we can hit the ground running. It's really going to test us, the first one or two games – it may take a week or two to get them really working together because it's a whole new core combination with halves, hookers and fullback.
"They're all going to be new so it might take a couple of weeks but the first four or five rounds is all based on our defence and our time in possession with the ball so hopefully we can do well there."