A slightly-changed South Sydney Rabbitohs welcomed Cronulla to ANZ Stadium, as the Sharks looked to improve on a seventh placed finish last season.
The opening stages were very cagey, as both sides made a few errors but it was the Sharks who took the control after five minutes.
Cameron Murray was penalised for holding on in the tackle and Shaun Johnson converted to take a 0-2 lead.
The Bunnies were determined not to let the game slip away early, and on the fifth tackle, instead of kicking the ball, Adam Reynolds stepped inside Wade Graham and attacked the posts, catching the Sharks off guard to take the lead for his side.
Another bit of magic from Reynolds put South Sydney back on the front foot after running once again on the last.
He managed to win a repeat set but Braidon Burns couldn’t quite grasp a pass from Damien Cook before crashing over.
South Sydney Captain, Reynolds, challenged the decision, and on second viewing, Shaun Johnson tapped the ball forward onto Burns, however, The Bunker decided Johnson didn’t knock the ball into the centre in what seemed to be a successful challenge by the Bunnies.
The home side were in the ascendency as quick play from Damien Cook at dummy-half meant that the Cronulla defence were struggling to deal with the running lines of the Rabbitohs forwards.
Aaron Woods was one of these struggling as he caught Cameron Murray with a high shot. Reynolds converted the penalty to push six points in front after 20 minutes.
Further ill-discipline from the Sharks meant Wayne Bennett’s side marched back up the field.
A big run from Tevita Tatola forced the visitors to hold him down too long on the floor, and once again a further two points were added by Reynolds.
A second Bunnies try looked to follow shortly afterwards, when a Ronaldo Mulitalo knocked-on in the tackle in front of his own try line and Thomas Burgess picked up the ball, and dotted down.
However, the play was brought back for a ball strip and the score remained 10-2.
A knock-on from Latrell Mitchell on his own 10-metre line gave Cronulla the chance to bring the scoreline closer, but on the first tackle, Will Kennedy was dragged into touch by James Roberts and company.
Roberts was then awarded with 10 minutes on the bench after stopping Josh Morris from taking a quick tap penalty.
The Sharks exploited the gap left by Roberts, as Chad Townsend and Johnson combined to create space for Wade Graham, who managed to beat the tackle of Mitchell to score.
Johnson then converted to make it 10-8 with just six minutes to go until the half.
With a couple of minutes to go until the break, Souths forced a goal-line drop out after trapping Kennedy behind his own try-line.
This allowed the Bunnies to attack the Sharks, and after a slow play-the-ball, Damien Cook ran at the line, drew in Jesse Ramien, which opened up space for Campbell Graham.
Cook pushed a pass over the top of Ramiens head into the hands of the Graham, and the winger slid over from five metres out.
Reynolds converted for a eight point lead at the break.
HALF-TIME: South Sydney Rabbitohs 16-8 Cronulla Sharks
At the break, the Sharks got some bad news, Mulitalo had failed a head injury assessment and would not return to the field, this meant a reshuffled backline was something the visitors would have to deal with throughout the second period.
The Bunnies then made the most of a jagged Cronulla line, as a kick from Reynolds went through the legs of Shaun Johnson, and Ethan Lowe bent down to pick the ball up and dotted down over the line.
The Sharks were close to getting another try back, as Johnson, Townsend and Kennedy linked up to give the ball the Josh Morris. Unfortunately for the soon to be Rooster, he couldn’t quite gather the ball, in what would have been a certain try over on the left edge.
With 20 minutes of the game remaining, Cronulla had a lot of work to do in order to get back into the game, and it felt like Souths were trying everything to give them the opportunities needed.
A few penalties put the visitors is some good field position and a flat pass from Johnson across the face of Rabbitohs defence was juggled by Sione Katoa, and once the winger gathered the ball, he dotted down to score.
The try was converted to cut the deficit to eight points with 16 minutes remaining.
Katoa picked up a quickfire second in the very next attacking set for the Sharks. It was Johnson again who drew in the defensive line, to give Kennedy and Katoa a two-on-one with Campbell Graham.
The full-back tipped the ball onto the winger, who jumped over the covering defence to score.
After a crazy few minutes in which both teams made silly errors and gave away a few penalties each, it was Souths who looked to extend their lead but Damien Cook’s fifth tackle kick was touched by Tatola in an offside position.
Liam Knight made is presence known, as a huge hit on Wade Graham dislodged the ball. Followed by half-breaks from Roberts and Johnston put the home side within 10-metres of the try line.
However, on the fourth tackle, Burns saw four Cronulla defenders right in front of him when receiving a pass and couldn’t quite do the job.
After missing a knock-on from Brailey, a penalty was then awarded to the Sharks for Cook being offside at marker.
This pushed Cronulla inside the Bunnies 20-metre line, and Johnson forced a goal-line dropout.
With the Sharks four points behind, they knew a try would be needed in order to get anything from the game.
Once again, back-to-back penalties against the Rabbitohs increased the pressure on their own defence.
Cronulla did manage to breach the South Sydney line, as the spread the ball out to the left edge to Morris. The winger did catch and ground the ball this time, but the pass from Connor Tracey was forward.
the visitors did get the ball back with 15 seconds remaining, but Tracey was dragged down by Roberts and the final whistle blew in a thrilling end to this round one tie.
FULL-TIME: South Sydney Rabbitohs 22-18 Cronulla Sharks
South Sydney Rabbitohs
Mitchell, Gagai, Roberts, Burns, Graham, Walker, Reynolds, Tatola, Cook, Burgess, Su’a, Murray, Knight
Interchanges: Nicholls, Lowe, Sele, Johnston
Tries: Reynolds, Graham, Lowe
Goals: Reynolds (5/5)
Kennedy, Katoa, Morris, Ramien, Mulitalo, Johnson, Townsend, Fifita, Brailey, Woods, Nikora, Graham, Williams
Interchanges: Tracey, Hamlin-Uele, Rudolf, Sorensen
Tries: Graham, Katoa (2)
Goals: Johnson (3/4)