Round 1: Rabbitohs v Sharks preview
A new era begins for both clubs
The South Sydney Rabbitohs host the Cronulla Sharks on Saturday evening in a match set to usher in a new era for both clubs.
Having farewelled three club greats - John Sutton, Sam Burgess and Greg Inglis - last season, the South Sydney Rabbitohs will be looking to continue the positive strides taken over the past two years with a new-look line-up featuring marquee signing Latrell Mitchell and new captain Adam Reynolds.
Coming into the opening round off the back of pre-season victories over Parramatta (28-24) and St George Illawarra in the Charity Shield (26-12), coach Wayne Bennett will be aiming to extend the side's strong record of five round one wins over the past seven years.
Naming two-time premiership winner Latrell Mitchell at fullback and journeyman forward Hame Sele on the interchange for their club debuts, former Australian international Alex Johnston has been relegated to the bench in favour of emerging centre Braidon Burns.
Beginning life without their greatest ever player - Paul Gallen - the Cronulla Sharks will be determined to throw off an early season injury crisis in order to break a wretched run of round one losses.
Losing nine of their past ten season openers - including their last six in succession - coach John Morris will be need to see improvement from his side following mixed trial form in the loss to Canterbury-Bankstown (30-18) and win over Manly (28-16).
Unable to draw upon strike outside backs Matt Moylan, Josh Dugan or Bronson Xerri through injury, the Sharks will field a youthful backline featuring fullback Will Kennedy and returning centre Jesse Ramien.
Following an impressive showing in the trials, Toby Rudolf will come off the bench in his first grade debut after winning reserve grade titles in QLD and NSW over the past two seasons.
Saturday afternoon marks the third time the Rabbitohs and Sharks have clashed in the opening round of the season - the leger stands at one win apiece.
Who to watch: Having been subject to an overwhelming level of scrutiny following his departure from Sydney over the off-season, Latrell Mitchell will be readying himself for the latest challenge of his young career. Among the highest profile coups ever recorded by South Sydney, the 23-year-old Biripi and Wiradjuri superstar will start at fullback for the first time since his rookie season with the Roosters back in 2016. Playing 16 games in the number one jersey before shifting into the centres with tremendous effect, expect Mitchell to take some time to find his stride before demonstrating all new ways of terrorising opponents with the ball in hand.
Suffering a horror run with injuries as a junior - including three ACL tears in three consecutive years - former Australian Schoolboys playmaker Connor Tracey will be eager to make the most of his role as a utility. Beginning his career at Cronulla prior to playing two matches with South Sydney last year, the 23-year-old will be tasked with relieving Blayke Brailey in the number nine jersey following Cameron King's tragic season-ending injury during the trials. Running for over 200 metres on his NRL debut and bagging a double in the pre-season win over Manly, look for Tracey to bring a fresh spark to the Sharks as they chase their first opening round win since 2013.
The favourite: In spite of an equally competitive record over the past decade with each side emerging with seven wins apiece, the Rabbitohs are favoured to open the season with a win.
South Sydney Rabbitohs Form Guide
Yet to play this season
South Sydney Rabbitohs Upcoming Games
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Form Guide
Yet to play this season