Brisbane Broncos won an entertaining opening contest of the 2017 season, 26-18 in front of 11,943 at Shark Park.
It was a night to celebrate for the 11-thousand Sharks that crammed in the park for the first game after their drought breaking premiership, but it was Brisbane who came out of the blocks firing.
Jordan Kahu posted the first six points of the season, with a excellent wingers finish after a good build up from Anthony Milford, which he converted himself. Sharks responded quickly through makeshift fullback Gerard Beale from a series of passes that left him wide open to lock it at 6-6 after Maloney converted.
Kahu added a penalty goal in the 17th minute to nudge the Broncos just ahead. Milford furthered added to the cushion when he curved a kick behind the defense for a flying James Roberts to touch down for 14-6 half-time lead.
The Sharks were stung early, but they came out in the second with renewed vigour. The Broncos weathered the storm and Corey Oates flew through the air for the visitors' third try of the night and after the first Bunker referral of the evening, held a surprising 14-point lead.
It was quite the response from the Broncos after a week where several figures in the media questioned the merit of Wayne Bennett's coaching and even the sides capabilities to make the top eight. Although it is only a 80 minute sample, the Broncos look much more flexible in attack and rigid in defense.
Cronulla like champion sides do, were able to get back into the contest. Chad Townsend - a maligned figure for portions of 2016 - sliced through and judged the kick well enough for James Maloney to just score. All the momentum was with the home side, as Ricky Leutele powered across and a magnificent Maloney conversion reduced it to two.
Brisbane started to flag as the kicking game of the premiers pinned them back several times. A huge run from Sam Thaiday and some luck from a Josh McGuire kick was the impetus for the victory. Once again it was Milford, who after taking a static pass from Ben Hunt danced around the defenders, stepped and slammed down the winning try for the Broncos after a long week.
For the Sharks, it was an unhappy homecoming after the premiership glory but there is plenty more rugby league to come. In the case of the visitors, it was the tonic at the end of a vicious week that gives Bennett some breathing room.
Next week the premiers are off to Canberra while the Broncos head home to Brisbane where they'll face the Cowboys.