Wigan Warriors v Sharks: Five key points
The Wigan Warriors snapped a four-year losing run for Super League champions in the annual World Club Challenge fixture, downing a rusty Sharks outfit 22-6.
Questions early for new-look Sharks
Bearing in mind this game was Cronulla's first really serious hit-out since their grand final win, some rust is to be expected. The returns of Valentine Holmes and Sosaia Feki from injury will help but how they manage the departures of Ben Barba and Michael Ennis will clearly be a key challenge this year.
Stand-in fullback Gerard Beale was close to his team's best but is expected to relinquish the No.1 jersey to Holmes when the latter returns from a hamstring strain.
The departure of Ennis will be tougher to manage. Neither starting rake Jayden Brailey nor bench utility Nu Brown provided anywhere near the level of control veteran Ennis would have – though Brailey had some nice moments and looks a serious prospect of the future. With Daniel Mortimer also on the books and James Segeyaro still a theoretical if unlikely chance of arriving in the Shire at some point, Cronulla's No.9 jersey seems far from settled just yet.
Cronulla luckless with video referrals
Cronulla could really have used either of the two tries they nearly scored in the first half after going into the sheds down 10-0, and you could make a case either or both would have been awarded in the NRL.
The first, a no-try to Luke Lewis with winger Jesse Ramien found to be offside, likely would have been a try in the NRL as the flanker had no impact on the play but as he was within 10 metres of the try-scorer the black-and-white UK interpretation it meant a no-try ruling.
The latter to stand-in winger Luke Capewell saw a kick sail between Capewell's arms before hitting his knee and going into the in-goal and while that was play on, it was ruled his subsequent grounding came down on the touch-in-goal line though it looked as though the point of the ball was grounded legally. It was the closest the Sharks got to first-half points.
Joe Burgess – good enough for NRL?
When Joe Burgess was still at Souths last season, he told NRL.com if the Rabbitohs deal had arisen before he agreed to return to England he'd have stayed in Australia and this week he was reported as saying he hoped to one day return to the NRL.
He made a good case with his World Club Challenge performance against Cronulla, scoring the opening two tries of the match inside 25 minutes. The first came on the end of a long sequence of passing that created an overlap but required a spectacular leaping grounding from the lanky winger to earn the four-pointer.
Burgess produced a tremendous bomb-defusal and tackle-busting run late in the game under plenty of pressure then sealed a fine all-round game with his hat-trick on the final play of the game, showing great pace and awareness to race through on a George Williams grubber. He is only at the start of a new three-year deal however so he'll need a few more of those performances to have NRL clubs knocking at the end of it.
Sharks' power game just getting warmed up
The errors took the sting out of it but most of Cronulla's best moments were provided by their hard-running forward pack. Andrew Fifita had some monstrous tackle-busting carries and while his notorious play-the-ball seems to have deteriorated over the off-season he will be a handful again in 2017.
Back-rower Wade Graham won't be dropping back a gear after breaking into the NSW Origin team in 2016; his powerful early runs created all sorts of headaches for Wigan though again some moments of ill-discipline proved costly. Luke Lewis's edge-running is still a feature and his effort to leap for a kick and score what would have been a try but for an offside player outside him wound the clock back.
Underrated big men Matt Prior and Sam Tagataese had some great moments as well while retiring skipper Paul Gallen will continue to produce what we've come to expect from him in his final NRL season.
Flanagan backs Aussie two-ref system
The practice of having two referees on the field in NRL games – as distinct from the lone referee in UK games and internationals – has drawn criticism from some quarters for over-managing games but after what he described as a frustrating match, Sharks coach Shane Flanagan backed the NRL's policy.
"I'll be glad to get back to Australia and have a two-referee system because I thought it was awful today," Flanagan said, while stressing he didn't want to deflect credit from Wigan's dominant effort.
"The 10 metres wasn't 10 metres and I think Wigan were frustrated with some of the decisions as well because they were inconsistent."