2019 NRL Charity Shield Preview
More than just a trial, the 36th edition of the traditional season curtain-raiser is to be held again in Mudgee.
South Sydney Rabbitohs vs St George-Illawarra Dragons
Saturday, March 2nd – 7:30 pm kickoff
Glen Willow Stadium, Mudgee
There’s always an edge to the Charity Shield – both teams are in Premiership contention (Souths $8.50 with Unibet, St George $13 with TAB) and have named near full-strength squads for their final hit-out before the season proper.
This will be the Bunnies’ first true national exposure under new coach Wayne Bennett. Last week they went down 28-8 to Penrith in their first trial at Redfern Oval (doubling as veteran backrower John Sutton’s testimonial), however, Bennett did heavily rotate his team after half-time, when trailing 12-8 to fellow Premiership contenders Penrith ($10 with Bet365).
Even with Round One in sight, Souths are tweaking their roster this week – last season’s leading try scorer Robert Jennings made his transfer to Wests Tigers official while former Premiership-winning backrower Ethan Lowe has made the move to Redfern from North Queensland.
Coach Paul McGregor faces a potentially career-defining 2019. Entering the final year of his current contract, McGregor’s club has experienced a dynamic off-season. Livewire playmaker Corey Norman has joined from Parramatta and will find himself in the halves alongside marquee man Ben Hunt.
This shifts captain Gareth Widdop to fullback in his final season with the Dragons before joining Warrington in 2020. Widdop burst onto the scene in the custodian role and this structural change could add a new attacking dimension for the Dragons. They would have gained confidence with an 18-10 win last week in Wollongong against Newcastle.
LAST TIME THEY MET
It was a finals clash for the ages. Souths were recovering from a gruelling clash with Melbourne in the 2018’s Final’s opening week while the Dragons shocked the league world in a brutal demolition of Brisbane. This match somehow outlived the pregame hype with a bruising elimination encounter only decided in the dying seconds courtesy of Souths halfback Adam Reynolds’ third field goal for the night in a 13-12 thriller.
RECENT SHIELD HISTORY
Souths have dominated recent Charity Shields, with the Dragons’ last win coming back in 2012.
2016 – Souths 18 d. St George-Illawarra 14
2017 – Souths 32 d. St George-Illawarra 14
2018 – Souths 22 d. St George-Illawarra 18
Both sides will field unfamiliar spines – with Greg Inglis and Adam Reynolds unavailable, although Alex Johnston is a familiar fullback face, rookie halfback Connor Tracey will be under the spotlight. Meanwhile, the Dragons’ injection of Corey Norman means attacking fluidity may be a work in progress for their playmakers. The Dragons have a middle forward position up for grabs with Jack de Belin banned from playing until the completion of his court case under the new 'no-fault stand down policy'.
The Charity Shield becomes an audition to fringe Dragons forwards to show their cases for the future. Luciano Leilua looms as a likely candidate to particularly step up. De Belin leaves big shoes to fill – his average game involvements of 42.8 in 2018 were matched by Tyson Frizell and only hooker Cameron McInnes averaged higher for their side.
This year’s Shield is especially intriguing. What difference will there be to Souths’ attacking style under Bennett compared to now ex-coach Anthony Siebold? Will Damien Cook- a revolution in 2018- be given the same license to run first as a hooker, or will Bennett expect more service to his halves? And how comfortable will the Dragons’ new halves combination be? We’ll learn more come Saturday night.
ABOUT THE CHARITY SHIELD
There’s no better way to kick-off the domestic rugby league season like the Charity Shield! Saturday’s match with the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the St George Illawarra Dragons will be the 36th edition of the traditional season curtain-raiser, to be held again in Mudgee after making its hosting debut last season. The Dragons collectively hold 16 wins (including their joint venture with Illawarra), Souths though is rapidly catching up with 14 wins, along with 5 draws.
WHERE TO WATCH
FOX League – coverage starts 7 pm AEDT on 501 and Foxtel Go/Kayo.