Young gun Albert Kelly is set to start at halfback for Cronulla ahead of former rookie of the year Tim Smith when the club kicks off their NRL season in Canberra on Sunday week.

Kelly looks to have won the pre-season battle to partner ex-Penrith five-eighth Wade Graham in the halves as the Sharks look to lift themselves into top eight contenders.

The 19-year-old cousin of superstar Greg Inglis made a soul-destroying debut at fullback in round one last year before going on to play just five first grade games.

But training back at his preferred position he has impressed coach Shane Flanagan and is likely to get the nod ahead of the inconsistent Smith when the Sharks’ first side of 2011 is named.

“Wado’s (Graham’s) going pretty good, I think we’ve just got to find him a permanent partner, that’s the hard thing,” captain Paul Gallen said.

“It looks like Albert Kelly’s probably there at the moment.

“It’s going to be a big ask, someone has to step up and perform to be (Graham’s) partner.”

Smith, who had a stellar debut season with Parramatta in 2005, was parachuted into Cronulla early last season after a stint in England.

He struggled to recapture the form that won him the Dally M rookie award and Gallen said the Sharks were after more consistency at halfback in 2011.

“I think it’s just a matter of Timmy had his opportunity last year and went really well some games and then not so good other games, so I think it’s just a matter of one of those two being able to play well every single week,” the skipper said.

Adding another dimension to the battle for he No.7 jersey, Kelly and Smith are among a host of Sharks off-contract in 2012.

Graham is hopeful he can re-spark a combination with Kelly that the pair previously built in junior representative teams.

“I’ve known Alby for a while now, we played in a few of the junior sides together and we’ve always got along well, our games are sort of similar,” Graham said.

“Alby’s one of those players, there’s probably one or two in every team, they just do something and you just go, ‘Wow’.

“I don’t even think he knows how he does it half the time.

“He’s certainly got that little bit of an X-factor about him and he’s certainly got a lot of potential there.”

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