Jonathan Rea's World Superbike Championship title defence is off to a perfect start after showing a cool head to win a in a fast and furious 2016 opener at Phillip Island.

An absorbing encounter typical of the Australian circuit, Rea led for much of the race but was never allowed a moment's peace as rivals stacked up behind him to tackle him for the win, but a textbook display of precision riding would never see him realistically challenged as he crossed the line ahead of Chaz Davies and Michael van der Mark.

The first Saturday race in WSBK history, it was Rea that would get away best from the lights, sweeping into turn one with the first lead of 2016, though it was a position he would only hold for two laps when pole sitting team-mate Tom Sykes swept by at the start of lap three.

It wouldn't take long for a lead pack to form, with the two Ducatis - highlighted by a frisky Davies quickly getting himself up the order from ninth on the grid -, the two Hondas and the two Yamahas establishing a fast moving train at the front behind the Kawasakis.

With Sykes controlling the pace but never moving it along, Rea held station until lap eight when he moved by into turn one and nosed in front. It a move enough to unsettle Sykes, the former champion pounced upon by the Ducatis into Honda straight to drop him to fourth, before both Hondas did the same on the following lap to demote him to sixth as he struggled to find his feet in the heat of battle.

Up front, Rea had the measure of the pace, steadily stringing out the pack, and managing the new ZX-10Rs strengths as it constantly held off his rivals down the home straight and into the braking zones. Indeed, Davies, David Giugliano and van der Mark would all swap position repeatedly behind him to have a go at Rea as the race entered its second-half but none could make a convincing move stick on the Ulsterman as comfortable held station.

Indeed, with the race entering its final stages, Rea began to up the pressure with only Davies and van der Mark able to go with him, before the Dutchman too just fell adrift with two laps remaining.

Leaving Davies as the only man capable of denying Rea, perhaps inevitably he waited until the final run through Lukey Heights to attempt a pass, achieving his objective with a slightly unbalanced lunge up the inside. However, Rea was wise to it and simply performed the undercut to grab the lead back and take it to the chequered flag.

An ominous warning to his rivals and proof the new Kawasaki ZX-10R has no obvious weaknesses, the victory marks the 30th of Rea's career.

Picking up where he left off last year, Davies will still be a satisfied second place as the Ducati showed its pace if not quite its top speed, while van der Mark's feisty run to third is a positive indication that both the Dutchman and the Honda are in the hunt this year.

Setting the fastest lap on the final revolution, Davide Giugliano was a welcome fourth as he firmly puts a torrid injury-ridden 2015 season behind him, while Sykes will be left a disgruntled fifth having never recovered from being shuffled back early on.

Left on the periphery of the lead fight from the off, Sylvain Guintoli nonetheless brought the new PATA Yamaha R1 home for a respectable sixth place finish on the bike's debut, just three seconds off the lead, which is more than can be said for Alex Lowes, who crashed with six laps to go at turn one.

Despite a poor start that left him down in 13th initially, Leon Camier put in a charging ride on the sole MV Agusta to get the better of Althea BMW's Jordi Torres for seventh place, the pair of them in turncatching a flagging Nicky Hayden in the closing stages. A solid WSBK debut for the American, he kept pace with van der Mark early on, but fell back in the closing stages as the tyres on the CBR1000RR waned.
With Markus Reieterberger crashing out of tenth on the final lap, Josh Brookes grabbed the position on the Milwaukee BMW having prevailed in a tussle with Roman Ramos and Lorenzo Savadori, the Italian running as high as ninth at one stage before dropping back on the IodaRacing Aprilia.

Karel Abraham, wild-card Mike Jones and Sylvain Barrier completed the top 15 and the points.