Reformed bad boy Russell Packer is ready to shoulder extra responsibility for St George-Illawarra in the Charity Shield match against South Sydney on Saturday.
Packer is among a host of Dragons recruits selected in what is almost a full-strength line-up for the ANZ Stadium NRL pre-season clash.
With star Josh Dugan rested, Melbourne buy Kurt Mann gets the nod at fullback, while late acquisition Tim Lafai will start in his customary left centre spot.
Dunamis Lui and Siliva Havili are also on an extended bench but all eyes will be on the returning Packer, who partners Leeson Ah Mau in a new-look starting front row pairing.
The former Kiwi representative hasn’t played in the NRL since serving one-year in jail for assault, but made a discreet return for the Red V in a 50-6 trial win against Queensland Cup side Wynnum-Manly last weekend.
But the annual Shield fixture marks a big step up and Packer will immediately be relied upon to pull his weight after the club lost fellow prop Mose Masoe for six months with a torn knee ligament.
“He was always going to play a pretty big role,” teammate Benji Marshall said of Packer.
“One thing about Russell is he’s a great leader around training. He’s played for his country, he’s smarter than a lot of people give him credit for, (and) he’s got all the s… things out of his game.”
Newly-appointed co-captain Gareth Widdop joins Joel Thompson in All Stars camp in Brisbane, meaning rising playmaker Drew Hutchison will partner Marshall in the halves.
It will be Marshall’s first run since injuring his ankle in the infamous leg lock incident with Canterbury forward Greg Eastwood.
“I’m really not feeling any effects of it,” Marshall said.
“I’ve trained pretty hard and done everything for the team, and everything’s looking good. Just looking forward to getting past all this hard training and looking forward to playing.”