Dragon Josh Dugan ready to go against South Sydney
THE Dragons' attack was roundly criticised after its poor 2014 Auckland Nines campaign, but after an improved showing last weekend, the players will go into Saturday's annual Charity Shield match against South Sydney at ANZ Stadium with increased confidence.
St George-Illawarra won two games in the pre-season tournament this year, beating Manly and the Eels, with playmaker Benji Marshall showing he was back to his creative best after a subdued return to the NRL last season.
The Dragons have named a strong team for the trial against the premiers, who showed they mean business again this year by winning the Nines.
With Illawarra junior Euan Aitken to partner new recruit Dane Nielsen in the centres, New South Wales representative Josh Dugan has moved back to his natural position of fullback.
The marquee player shone at the Nines, giving Dragons fans hope of springing an upset over the Rabbitohs.
"It was pretty exciting to be a part of it (the Nines) and to get a couple of wins as well," Dugan said.
"But I think the most pleasing thing for us was our defence at times, and we could take some positives out of it."
Dugan said this pre-season in the Red V has gone a lot smoother under coach Paul McGregor, compared to the previous one with Steve Price in charge.
He said having a settled halves combination of Gareth Widdop and Marshall had played a big part in that.
"It makes it so much easier when you're not chopping and changing with combinations; I think that was what we struggled a bit with last year," Dugan said.
"This year we've got a strong core group, and everyone's trained together during the pre-season."
After sitting out the Nines, Widdop said he couldn't wait for the Charity Shield clash, before heading back to England for the World Club Series starting on February 20.
"The last few weeks have been tough as they always are, but the body's feeling great and I'm really excited for this week's game," he said.
The Rabbitohs have named prop George Burgess and halfback Adam Reynolds in their team despite injury concerns, while premiership winger Alex Johnston will line-up at fullback in place of rested skipper Greg Inglis.
New forwards Tim Grant and Glenn Stewart have been named on the bench.