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Based on his post-match choice of pizza, Sharks rookie Jayden Brailey is a firm believer that pineapple does in fact belong on Italy's favourite dish.

While that opinion might be controversial, what's not up for debate is how well the 20-year-old handled himself on debut against the Broncos in Thursday night's season-opening loss at Southern Cross Group Stadium. 

Brailey showed there is life after Michael Ennis, with the Sharks No.9 making 39 tackles in 59 minutes in a performance that drew high praise from his coach and skipper. 

The 2016 Holden Cup player of the year beat out experienced NRL campaigners Daniel Mortimer, Manaia Cherrington and Fa'amanu Brown for the starting hooking role, and Shane Flanagan's decision to back the youngster looks set to pay dividends. 

Having spent his childhood sitting on the hill watching his beloved team run around, Thursday night – and the week leading up to it – was something Brailey will never forget.  

"Flanno told me at the start of the week. He told me pretty early so I could get my preparation on point," Brailey said in the sheds after the game. 

"When the boys found out, they were all supportive of me. They got around me during the week at training and told me to back myself. I went out there tonight feeling pretty confident. I was nervous, but I was really calm throughout the day.

"It was a good build-up in the week. The jersey presentation, all the boys got around me and it's something I'll never forget."

‌The day itself started like any other, with Brailey keen to not disrupt his usual pre-game routine. 

"I usually always have the same routine," he said. 

"I try not to think about footy too much. I just hang around friends… I've got a good supportive group around me. I just went and got brekkie, went for a swim, got a coffee, and then when we got a bit closer towards the game, I just chilled out a bit more at home."

While he might have been relaxed in the hours leading up to the game, emotions ran high when Brailey was presented his jersey by Sharks legend Andrew Ettingshausen; a moment that will long live in the memory bank of the local junior.  

"He's a legend, not only to the club, but in the NRL competition [as a whole]," Brailey said. 

"It gave me goosebumps getting that jersey. Being a local junior, this has been my dream for as long as I can remember. This is just crazy and I really just cherished everything that happened tonight.

"He just said he was really proud to give me my jersey, and I was taken aback by that, especially [hearing] that from someone of his calibre. He said to really enjoy tonight and make the most of the opportunity."

That's exactly what Brailey did. Inspired by Cronulla's grand final success – he was in the stands sitting behind the goalposts on that fateful night last year – the No.9 showed the guile that had many tipping big things from him in 2017.

Those same pundits are also backing Blayke Brailey to join his older brother in first grade in the not too distant future. 

The NYC hooker made six appearances off the bench last season and made the most of his first start on Thursday evening, scoring a try and creating two more in the epic 40-38 loss to the Broncos. 

Jayden was able to catch a bit of the first half before his focus turned to his own game, and was full of pride for what his sibling was able to produce. 

"I watched a bit of the first half – I saw him score a really good try. He's really quick, he's very strong – he's only 78 kilos – but man he's strong. I've run at him a couple of time and he gets underneath me in the backyard," he said. 

"He's his own player. He's got a different style to me. Last year I got to play a bit of footy with him which was a good big-brother moment."

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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