South Sydney Rabbitohs v St George Illawarra Charity Shield Predictions & Tips

Dave Kuzio:

The start of the 2020 NRL season is nearly upon us and teams are getting prepared with a number of trial games. The annual Charity Shield between South Sydney Rabbitohs and St George Illawarra Dragons takes place at the Glen Willow Oval in Mudgee on Saturday, February 29..

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The NRL season gets underway on the weekend of March 12, but before that there are a number of trial games to be played as all 16 teams try to gain some match fitness ahead of the new campaign.

One of the biggest trial games of the pre-season campaign is the annual Charity Shield clash between South Sydney Rabbitohs and the St George Illawarra Dragons.

There is no love lost between these two Sydney sides and this rivalry goes back a long way. Back far enough before St George merged with Illawarra Steelers to become the St George Illawarra Dragons.

History of the Charity Shield

The first ever Charity Shield between the Rabbitohs and the Dragons took place back on February 13, 1982 with the Dragons claiming bragging rights with a 9-7 success at the Redfearn Oval.

This then became an annual event and is even seen as the unofficial start to the NRL season and it is still contested to this day.

South Sydney Rabbitohs’ Dylan Walker on his way to the tryline. (Photo by Robb Cox/AAP/PA Images)

In some people’s eyes, it’s seen as a warm-up game and just a reason to get players out on the paddock. For others, it’s bragging rights until they meet again. Remember, a shield is up for grabs and it’s also a good measuring stick to see how each team will perform heading into the new season.

Until St George and Illawarra merged together as a new franchise in 1999, the Dragons had won 11 of their 17 meetings with the Rabbitohs. Since, then they have played 19 times and the Red Vee have only been successful on five occasions.

Overall, out of 36 Charity Shield encounters, the Dragons have won 16 and the Bunnies 15 from 36 matches with five of them being draws. Those draws meant the previous years winner kept the trophy, meaning South Sydney have won the Charity Shield 20 times and the Dragons 16.

South Sydney Rabbitohs have not been beaten in the Charity Shield since the Dragons claimed an 18-12 success at the ANZ Stadium in 2012. The Bunnies have won seven Charity Shields in succession, leading some people to think the competition has lost its value.

Out of those seven Charity Shield wins, one of them ended in a draw as they played out a 12-12 draw at the ANZ Stadium on February 7, 2015. They come into this year’s game as the holders having beaten the Dragons 36-24 last March.

Sydney Roosters vs St George Illawarra Dragons – NRL Charity Shield Predictions & Tips

It would be easy to look at the recent history between these two and just back the Bunnies to keep hold of the Charity Shield – I’m not thinking like that at all.

Yes, over the past few years The Dragons have been nothing short of abysmal. They have qualified for the play-offs just twice in the last eight NRL seasons. For a team like St George Illawarra, that is just not good enough.

This is the last-chance saloon for head coach Paul McGregor, he needs a good year if he is to keep his job and what better way to start than by winning the Charity Shield.

The Dragons have made some decent signings in the off-season and have a clutch of quality youngsters waiting in the wings for their chance. They will be without one of those youngsters for the Charity Shield, as Nines hero Cody Ramsey has not been selected for this game. But his time will come, don’t worry about that.

Trent Merrin in action for St George Illawarra Dragons. (Photo by RENEE MCKAY/AAP/PA Images)

The Dragons will be without England and Great Britain prop James Graham as he is once again rested. Trent Merrin is set for his second club debut after leaving the club in 2015, while Issac Luke and Tyrell Fuiamaono are both set to play after featuring in the All Stars clash last weekend.

The Bunnies are a quality side a top-class coach in Wayne Bennett. The Rabbitohs went big in the off-season with the signing of New South Wales star Latrell Mitchell and he is expected to make his club debut in the Charity Shield.

The Bunnies have named a strong squad with the likes of Dane Gagai, James Roberts, Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds, Tom Burgess, Alex Johnston and Bryson Goodwin all selected, and looking at their squad it is hard to back against them – but I am going to do anyway.

McGregor has brought in former NRL-winning coach Shane Flanagan as his assistant and his experience and knowhow will help ‘Mary’ when things are getting a bit much. There is something different about the Dragons in 2020, they will surprise a few teams this year.

I am looking forward to seeing Tristan Sailor in action once again. He is the son of Australian rugby league legend Wendell and he has already been tipped to be better than his old man.

The Dragons have a lot to prove and they can get off on the right foot with a win in the Charity Shield and become the first set of Dragons to win the game since 2012.

South Sydney Rabbitohs vs St George Illawarra Dragons Squads List

Rabbitohs:

Latrell Mitchell, Dane Gagai, James Roberts, Braidon Burns, Campbell Graham, Cody Walker, Adam Reynolds (c), Junior Tatola, Damien Cook, Thomas Burgess, Jaydn Su’A, Cameron Murray, Liam Knight, Patrick Mago, Hame Sele, Alex Johnston, Keaon Koloamatangi, Bryson Goodwin, Corey Allan, Bayley Sironen, Troy Dargan, Blake Taaffe, Jack Johns, Tom Amone

Dragons squad:

Euan Aitken, Eddie Blacker, Billy Brittain, Adam Clune, Jackson Ford, Tyson Frizell, Tyrell Fuimaono, Jacob Host, Ben Hunt, Tim Lafai, Blake Lawrie, Zac Lomax, Issac Luke, Trent Merrin, Corey Norman, Jordan Pereira, Mikaele Ravalawa, Jason Saab, Tristan Sailor, Tariq Sims, Paul Vaughan, Brayden Wiliame