Michael Ennis's retirement at the end of the 2016 season was supposed to leave an unfillable hole in Cronulla's squad, but rookie Jayden Brailey has dispelled those fears to help his side sit just one win behind the ladder-leading Storm after 11 rounds.
It's easy to forget sometimes that Brailey is only 21 years of age and in his first NRL season, but the 2016 Holden Cup Player of the Year has shown he has all the skills to be the Sharks' hooker for the next decade.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan showed plenty of faith in his young No.9 when he named him in the starting side in Round 1 ahead of more established rakes Fa'amanu Brown and Daniel Mortimer, and it's been smooth sailing ever since with Brailey proving to be a rock-solid contributor in the middle of the field.
Brailey admitted the adrenaline still hadn't subsided after 11 rounds and that he wanted to add a few more strings to his bow now that he's cemented his spot in the side.
 Brailey Jayden - Sharks
The former Australian Schoolboys star tormented opposition defences in the NYC last year, finishing 2016 with a competition-high 31 try assists from 26 appearances.
Whether it was flat passes close to the line, inside balls to hard-running centres or grubbers for his outside men, Brailey was unstoppable at times in the Holden Cup, finishing the year with multiple try assists in nine matches.
However he has only set up one try in 2017 and is keen to add to that tally in the coming weeks.
"I've found it's a lot tougher compared to the 20s. The defences are a lot tighter around the ruck so you can't get away with some of those assists I got last year," Brailey told NRL.com after his side's Round 11 win over the Cowboys.
"I'm just trying to develop my running game now because we've got a couple of really good offloaders in this team so there's always a chance to make some metres if I'm sniffing around the ruck.
"I'm working hard on my kicking game on the edge as well, so I know those try assists will eventually come if I keep working hard at training."
While he's still finding his feet in attack, Brailey has established himself as one of the most prolific tacklers in the competition through 11 rounds.
The Sharks rookie sits eighth on the leaderboard with 420 tackles, including a season-high 56 in the 18-14 win over North Queensland.
Brailey – who is set to take on a Bulldogs side including big boppers James Graham and Sam Kasiano on Saturday night – was tasked with trying to stop Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo last week and passed with flying colours.
"They kept coming at me but it's something you have to expect being a No.9 out in the middle of the field," he said.
"I was thinking about stopping Taumalolo all week trying to get my technique right. He got me at one stage which I'm filthy about, but he's an outstanding athlete so it was bound to happen. He's one of the best ball carriers in the NRL but I think I went alright against him."
After a whirlwind start to his first-grade career, Brailey was able to reflect on his most memorable moment thus far; the opportunity to play against childhood hero Cameron Smith in the 11-2 Round 6 win in Melbourne.
"I watched him since I was a really young bloke, so to come up against him was unreal," he said.
"It was a game I'd circled in at the start of the year, so to get the win – and to keep them to just two points – was amazing. I think we've got them again down here in a couple of weeks which I'm really looking forward to."