Rugby League is back this weekend in Sydney and it all kicks off with the Charity Shield clash between St George Illawarra Dragons and South Sydney Rabbitohs. The traditional curtain raiser to the season is usually held at ANZ Stadium, but due to an Eminem concert taking place this weekend the game is being held at WIN Stadium for the first time.
The Rabbitohs comfortably beat the Dragons in Auckland last week but the contest in the nines tournament will have little bearing on this encounter. For Souths it will be the first opportunity for World Cup players like Sam Burgess, Isaac Luke and Greg Inglis to get some game time in 2014. For Burgess it will be his first appearance since confirmation of his switch to Rugby Union at the end of the year.
Coach Michael Maguire had signalled an intention to pair Adam Reynolds and Luke Keary as the halves pairing this season, but he is denied the opportunity this week as both are injured. Keary is out for a few months after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in Auckland, while Reynolds’ injury is not thought to put him in doubt for the opening round of the NRL season.
John Sutton had been earmarked for a move into the forward pack, but may have to return to the halves for this match alongside Dylan Walker. Lote Tuqiri has also been named to make is debut on the wing. However they line up Souths will want to hit the ground running as they open their NRL campaign with games against both of last year’s grand finalists.
Josh Dugan looked sharp for the Dragons in Auckland last weekend. He made an immediate impact upon joining early in the 2013 season but will benefit from having had a full pre-season at his new club. Coach Steve Price will also get a good look at his all new halves combination of Gareth Widdop and Sam Williams. Gerard Beale has been ruled out of the squad after suffering a facial injury in a trial.
The Dragons will need to put up more of a fight against Souths’ giant forward pack if they are to gain control of this match. This match day is a triple header with the same sides going head to head in the NYC, and it all kicks off with the NSW Cup encounter between Illawarra Cutters and North Sydney Bears.
Saturday 22nd February, WIN Stadium Wollongong 17:00
St George Illawarra Dragons v South Sydney Rabbitohs