Who will run out round one and maybe more significantly, which players will cement positions in the top 17 as the year progresses?
Sharks Media takes a look at the hookers, the dummy halves likely to fill the vital position for coach John Morris and the Sharks in 2021.
A key moment came in the Sharks finals loss to the Raiders when hooker Blayke Brailey darted over for a try, a four-pointer which put his side in the ascendancy in the elimination match.
Unfortunately, while scoring the try Brailey injured an ankle and despite his best efforts was unable to continue.
With a disjointed attacking structure and missing the spark Brailey provides, the Sharks fell to the Raiders despite looking the dominant team for the 35-odd minutes the young dummy half was on the field.
The ankle has now been repaired, Brailey has undergone and continues with his rehab program and as of this week was back full-time training with the top squad and on track for a round one return.
Barring any mishaps, Brailey will be the Sharks number nine for the first game of the 2021 season but who fills the back-up role is more the question.
Queenslander Kyle Patterson signed on at the Sharks in 2020 after playing his under-20’s football with the Canberra club, however the issues around COVID meant limited opportunity, both for Patterson to impress and for the Cronulla coaching staff to assess his ability.
Other than the 2020 pre-season trials, Patterson has yet to appear in an official game for either the Sharks or Newtown Jets.
Now with a summer block of training under his belt, the trials shape as crucial for Patterson, both the trial against the Dragons where only players who participated in 12 or less NRL matches in 2020 are permitted to play, then the main NRL pre-season hit out against the Bulldogs.
Patterson will certainly be given ample game to time to show his worth and the picture will become clearer as to whether he is the man to step into Brailey’s shoes if required.
Also in the mix to be the dummy half back up could be local junior Jack Williams.
Primarily a half back or five eighth, Williams has spent the majority of the summer at dummy half during ball work and scrimmage sessions and with his outstanding defensive technique, coupled with the runs he has on the board having played a pivotal role in the success of the Newtown Jets back in 2019, putting him firmly in the mix.
Williams however is currently a train and trial player and would need a contract upgrade to play at the NRL level.
The final option for Morris and the Sharks regarding a Brailey backup could be two versatile types in Billy Magoulias and Connor Tracey.
While a specialist lock or middle forward, Magoulias has the skill to capably fill the role if and when needed and Tracey, who is well and truly in the fight to be either Sharks fullback or a replacement for Shaun Johnson in the halves in the early going, has done it before.
It may not be the first choice of either player, but if a number 14 jersey is on offer, they might both be willing to take it.
Brailey shapes as the man to suit up at number nine for the Sharks, with a young, capable and versatile crop of back-ups waiting in the wings.