It's a new era for both the Rabbitohs and Sharks after the departure of some experienced players.
South Sydney lost leaders Sam Burgess and John Sutton to retirement, though they gained a superstar in Latrell Mitchell.
Cronulla, meanwhile, are without Paul Gallen (retirement), Sosaia Feki and Matt Prior (both Super League) and are battling a mini outside back injury crisis, but they often thrive under adversity.
Josh Dugan on Wednesday said he was targeting a round-three comeback, which is when Josh Morris will begin his early-season switch to the Roosters.
Rabbitohs: All eyes will be on Latrell Mitchell as he steps out in the No.1 jersey. Alex Johnston has been named on the bench. Former Panther Hame Sele has been named on the interchange for his first game for the Rabbitohs. Second-rower Ethan Lowe hurt his knee at the NRL Nines but is good to go as is Mark Nicholls, who is coming off shoulder surgery. Troy Dargan and Keaon Koloamatangi were omitted from the squad 24 hours before kick-off. Bayley Sironen and Bryson Goodwin were the last two cuts an hour before kick-off.
Sharks: Will Kennedy will play the third game of his NRL career at fullback with Matt Moylan (calf) and Josh Dugan (knee) both sidelined. Bronson Xerri (shoulder) is also out but Ronaldo Mulitalo (knee) and Shaun Johnson (virus) are good to go after missing the club's final trial. Big man Toby Rudolf has been rewarded for his great form for Newtown in the back half of 2019 by being named to make his NRL debut off the bench. Royce Hunt and Braydon Trindall were the first two cut from the 21-man squad on Friday. Billy Magoulias and Jackson Ferris were omitted an hour before game time.
Damien Cook v Blayke Brailey. The master v the apprentice. Cook is the incumbent NSW and Australian Test hooker who has arguably taken Cameron Smith's mantle as the best No.9 in the business. Cronulla have high hopes for Brailey and did not stand in the way of his older brother Jayden's request for a release to join Newcastle.
For the Rabbitohs to win
It's an old cliche, but the backs can't deliver unless the forwards set the platform. And while the Rabbitohs undoubtedly have extreme firepower out wide, they won't get many shots away unless the big men stand up. Liam Knight and Tom Burgess are the leaders of a now-inexperienced pack.
For the Sharks to win
Gallen and Prior might be gone, but coach John Morris has worked hard to preserve Cronulla's fabled gritty culture. Hanging tough is one pillar for success, while feeding the powerful Jesse Ramien and electric Bronson Xerri early ball in the centres should give Souths headaches.
Brett Kimmorley says
Latrell Mitchell signing with any club has got to make them favourites, but we probably won't see his best at fullback for about half the season until he gets match fit. Still, with Adam Reynolds set to grow a leg as captain, I think Souths will play the disciplined brand of footy synonymous with master coach Wayne Bennett to edge the injury-hit Sharks. Rabbitohs by 4.
The Rabbitohs gained a pretty handy 'back-up' goal-kicker in Latrell Mitchell. Playing with the Roosters last year, Mitchell led the NRL in points (273) and was second in tries scored (19). Souths' first-choice kicker Adam Reynolds was fourth in point-scoring (207).
And another thing ...
These teams have only met once in each of the past four seasons, with the teams trading wins – Souths beat Cronulla in 2016, the Sharks beat the Rabbitohs in 2017, Souths won again in 2018 and Cronulla prevailed in their lone meeting last season. This is the only regular season meeting of 2020, with the recent trend pointing towards a Rabbitohs win.