Cronulla Sharks look to break opening day hoodoo against Newcastle Knights in 2019 NRL season opener

9+9: Blayke Brailey could make his NRL debut alongside older brother, Jayden, on Friday night. Picture: John Veage
9+9: Blayke Brailey could make his NRL debut alongside older brother, Jayden, on Friday night. Picture: John Veage

So, how much do statistics really matter in rugby league?

Cronulla open their 2019 NRL season on Friday night with a trip to Newcastle to take on the new-look - and much hyped - Knights.

The Sharks have won their last eight games against the Knights, including their last four visits to Newcastle, at an aggregate score of 281 to 96.  

On paper it looks like a game the Sharks would relish to kick start their season.

But the Knights will be buoyed by the fact that Cronulla are slow starters.

Picture: Dean Lewis/AAP Image

Picture: Dean Lewis/AAP Image

The Sharks have lost their last five season openers, their last win on the opening day coming in 2013 when they beat the Gold Coast.

Cronulla landed a psychological blow on Newcastle less than a fortnight ago, thrashing the Knights in their pre-season trial at Maitland.

The Sharks have endured an almost disastrous off-season, with the NRL's salary cap investigation costing Cronulla their CEO and their coach. They will also have to play $350,000 under their salary cap in each of the next two seasons and were hit with $750,000 in fines.

Their salary cap problems mean James Segeyaro's future at the club is now uncertain. 

Segeyaro would not have been involved against the Knights anyway with the Sharks believing he was not quite ready for the NRL having trained on his own all off-season as an uncontracted player.

Cronulla coach John Morris is weighing up whether to give Blayke Brailey his NRL debut off the bench. Brailey has been battling a fractured thumb and the Sharks are concerned about giving the 20-year-old his maiden appearance while hampered by injury.

If Brailey is ruled out, Kyle Flanagan is likely to be named as Cronulla's utility.

Talented young gun Bronson Xerri is expected to miss out on the squad, with new signing Josh Morris likely to partner Josh Dugan in an experienced centre pairing.

Briton Nikora though is expected to make his NRL debut in the back-row in the absence of co-captain Wade Graham, who will miss the first half of the season as he recovers from knee surgery.

The 21-year-old Junior Kiwi international will likely partner Kurt Capewell in the second row.

It will also be Sharks fans first chance to see mercurial new signing Shaun Johnson wearing the black, white and blue in a competitive fixture as he partners Chad Townsend in the halves with Matt Moylan shifting to full back in Cronulla's first match since the departure of Valentine Holmes.

Former Sharks Jesse Ramien and Edrick Lee are expected to play for the Knights.

Cronulla's opening day blues

2018 - Lost to Cowboys 20-14

2017 - Lost to Brisbane 26-18

2016 - Lost to Cowboys 20-14

2015 - Lost to Canberra 24-20

2014 - Lost to Titans 18-12

Cronulla's last eight games against Newcastle

2018 - Won 38-12 (home)

2018 - Won 48-10 (away)

2017 - Won 26-18 (away)

2017 - Won 19-18 (home)

2016 - Won 36-4 (home)

2016 - Won 62-0 (away)

2015 - Won 30-28 (away)

2015 - Won 22-6 (home)