Coming off a fourth-place finish in 2018, the Sharks have had to endure some turbulence through the pre-season with the departure of star fullback Valentine Holmes to chase an NFL chance and the de-registration of coach Shane Flanagan.
The retirement of Luke Lewis and injury to Wade Graham add further instability to the roster, which has also lost centres Jesse Ramien and Ricky Leutele.
Cronulla are set to start star recruit Shaun Johnson at five-eighth with his former Warriors halves partner Chad Townsend to retain the halfback role and Matt Moylan to revert to fullback in place of Holmes. Josh Morris will slot straight in at centre alongside Josh Dugan while Aaron Gray, Sione Katoa and Sosaia Feki battle for two wing spots.
Kyle Flanagan and Blayke Brailey will duel for James Segeyaro's vacated bench utility role while Graham's early season absence means a relatively inexperienced back row of Kurt Capewell and Scott Sorensen will start the season.
Resident NRL.com expert Jamie Soward says:
"All eyes will be straight on the Townsend-Johnson-Moylan combination in the early rounds and whether they can get that going straight away.
"I think Blayke Brailey should be the starting No.9, he offers a bit more in attack and you could maybe have an X-factor on the bench, someone like Kyle Flanagan. They probably didn't get enough out of dummy half last year. Jayden Brailey is by all means a first grader but I think they missed having someone like Michael Ennis coming out of dummy half.
"Bronson Xerri may find his way into the centres at some point and maybe Dugan back to the wing."
NRL.com's predicted Round 1 team:
- Matt Moylan
- Sione Katoa
- Josh Dugan
- Josh Morris
- Aaron Gray
- Shaun Johnson
- Chad Townsend
- Andrew Fifita
- Jayden Brailey
- Matt Prior
- Kurt Capewell
- Scott Sorensen
- Paul Gallen
- Jayson Bukuya
- Ava Seumanufagai
- Aaron Woods
- Kyle Flanagan
Other squad members … Wade Graham, Blayke Brailey, Sosaia Feki, William Kennedy, Isaac Lumelume, Billy Magoulias, Briton Nikora, Cruz Topai-Aveai, Braden Uele, Jack Williams, Bronson Xerri