Sharks to provide tough test for reigning premiers

The Johnathan Thurston-led Cowboys are hot favourites at the World Club Challenge. Photo: AAP Image
The Cowboys will begin their premiership defence at home at Townsville. Photo: AAP Image.

North Queensland will want to avoid launching their premiership defence with a loss to an underrated Cronulla outfit that will head to Townsville quietly confident of pulling off a first round upset on Saturday night.

The Cowboys managed to bounce back from losing their first three games in 2015 to win an historic premiership over Brisbane.

While a loss would not define their season, it would add to the pressure of going back-to-back, something not achieved since Brisbane won successive premierships against St George in 1992-93.

Cronulla has recruited very well, adding ex-Rooster James Maloney and former Warriors playmaker Chad Townsend to its halves. With former Dally M winner Ben Barba threatening to regain his dynamic best, exiled Queensland Origin hopeful Valentine Holmes driven to redeem himself and the brilliant Jack Bird in the centres, the Sharks have enough strike power behind a Paul Gallen-led pack to be a real threat to teams this season..

NRL coaches will name their first round sides today, with new Manly coach Trent Barrett likely to lose fullback Brett Stewart for the club's opening clash with the Bulldogs due to an ongoing hamstring injury.

Stewart couldn't train again yesterday, and boom youngster Tom Trbojevic is tipped to wear the No.1 jumper at Brookvale Oval on Friday night.

Their rivals have their own injury concerns, with former Manly coach Des Hasler losing Josh Morris for the clash. The representative centre underwent a second bout of surgery on his knee after stem cell treatment failed to work.

Will Hopate is his likely replacement.

Brisbane meanwhile could hand Englishman Greg Eden his debut against Parramatta in Sydney on Thursday night after the 25-year-old outside back scored a try in the team's World Club Challenge win over Wigan in the UK last week.