An at times scrappy but thoroughly entertaining Telstra NRL Premiership season opener finished with a win to the visitors and a loss for the defending premiers. Here are five talking points from Brisbane's 26-18 victory on Thursday night.
Bright start for Brailey
One of the biggest question marks hanging over Cronulla's title defence is how to cover the huge, yawning gap left by retired No.9 Michael Ennis. The crafty veteran was one of Cronulla's most important player in the 2016 premiership charge with his near decade-and-a-half of experience and 273 NRL games. With Manaia Cherrington and Dan Mortimer kept on ice and a hunt for former Panther James Segeyaro so far unsuccessful, local junior Jayden Brailey has been thrust into the fray. If his first 60-minute spell in the NRL (on the back of a fairly impressive 55-minute stint in the World Club Challenge loss) is any indication, Brailey will be an asset to Shane Flanagan's team this year. The 20-year-old got through 40 tackles with just one miss in those 60 minutes, provided crisp service out of dummy-half and threw some nice passes.
Well done Jayden Brailey really good debut pass marks in every way #NRLSharksBroncos— Danny Buderus (@Bedsy78) March 2, 2017
Broncos forwards cover for Parker loss
If the Sharks had queries over their hooker role, one of the key questions hanging over Brisbane's 2017 campaign was how the pack would cover for the loss of veteran Corey Parker, with Josh McGuire shifting to lock and a relatively inexperienced bench of Herman Ese'ese, Jai Arrow and Tevita Pangai Jnr alongside Alex Glenn. Glenn played just 13 minutes due to a head knock and in what was a highly physical start to the season, it meant plenty was required of the rest of the pack. McGuire was immense in his 68-minute spell, racking up 35 tackles and 161 metres while Korbin Sims looks a fine addition to the roster. None of the three rookies played more than Arrow's 26 minutes but each added plenty of punch while they were on.
Luke Lewis simply refuses to age
Last time veteran Sharks back-rower walked out onto the field for an NRL game, he walked off with a Clive Churchill medal. In the Telstra Premiership season opener the ageless 33-year-old was at it again, producing arguably the best individual efforts of any Sharks player. He was a constant threat on Cronulla's right edge, running threatening lines and passing well while combining nicely with halfback Chad Townsend. If there was a blot on his copybook it was a missed tackle on Anthony Milford as the Broncos pivot scored a crucial try with his team up by two points with 10 to play but younger and faster players would have been stepped by Milford in open play in the same situation.
Darius Boyd is still quite good at football
Broncos, Maroons and Kangaroos custodian Darius Boyd celebrated his first NRL game as Brisbane skipper by proving exactly why he is currently regarded as the world's premier fullback. The 29-year-old threw a sublime cut-out pass to put right side winger Jordan Kahu over for the night's first try. He kicked off the second half in similar fashion, producing a slick catch-and-pass on the left edge to send Corey Oates over to kick-start the scoring in the second stanza. His positional play was also flawless, cleaning up a number of tricky kicks at his own goal line. All in all it was a fine outing for the new club captain.
Mixed bag from Brisbane's halves
Clearly there will be plenty of eyes on Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt in his last year at Red Hill before commencing his mammoth six-year deal at St George Illawarra. He and halves partner Anthony Milford arguably regressed a little in 2016 after going within a whisker of winning a grand final a year prior. Probably the best news for Brisbane fans is that they were prepared to try things in attack – there were any number of early kicks that sorely tested the Sharks' defence, even if a few went astray. Hunt's switch-back pass for Milford to beat four players and score the final – and most important – try of the game was arguably the highlight. There was also some inevitable rustiness with a couple of poor errors and a combined seven missed tackles. Milford certainly had the better game of the two (aside from his try his kick for Roberts to score in the 31st minute was pinpoint) but a win's a win.