After years of being there or thereabouts, Cronulla are being touted as the real deal in 2016 but are set to receive an acid test on Sunday against ladder leaders Brisbane.
The Sharks’ NRL premiership window looks wide open with the inspired recruitment of James Maloney and Chad Townsend propelling them to their best form in years.
While they have based their game on their defensive resolve in years gone past, they have started the season as one of the best-attacking teams, and suddenly look like the complete package.
After eight games, they have scored 189 points, the third-best attacking start to a season after eight rounds in the club’s history, according to Fox Sports Stats.
They are also fourth in the competition for points scored (23.6 per game) and tries (3.9 per game).
A five-game winning streak has them inside the top four but whether they can go to the next level remains to be seen.
“They’re a much better team than they were last year,” Broncos coach Wayne Bennett said.
“And that’s what we’re all trying to be. They’ve got quality players and they are exciting players.”
It also shapes as a pressure test for the Broncos, who are without hooker Andrew McCullough (knee) and Adam Blair (suspension).
New Zealand international Kodi Nikorima gets his chance to start at No.9 with Travis Waddell to come onto the bench while Herman Ese’ese is also set to come into the 17.
“I think it’s just a good challenge, full stop,” Bennett said.
“They’re playing pretty good football and they’ll be keen to get to us …
“We’re always confident of who we put in the team and this is no different with Adam and Macca missing.”
STATS THAT MATTER:
* Brisbane have a strong defensive record so far this season, conceding the fewest points (10.1 per game), least tries (1.6 per game) and the second-fewest line breaks (2.4 per game)
* Cronulla have a poor history against Brisbane, winning just 19 of 50 matches (38 per cent)
* Brisbane winger Corey Oates has scored three tries in the opening 10 minutes of matches this season and has crossed for the opener in three games
Source: Fox Sports Stats