A reformed Russell Packer has been hailed as St George Illawarra’s missing link after a promising showing in Saturday’s 18-14 Charity Shield loss to South Sydney.
After spending a year in jail and more than two years out of the NRL, the former Kiwi Test prop is pushing for a spot in the Dragons’ line up for round one.
Given the green light to revive his career after paying his debt to society for an assault conviction, Packer played his first game for the side in a trial the week before but Saturday’s Charity Shield at ANZ Stadium was the Red V faithful’s first real look at the 26-year-old.
While the match never reached any great heights thanks to a high error rate and both sides struggling to hang onto the ball, Packer made a good impact.
Making plenty of metres through the middle and coming up with a number of good offloads, he displayed good signs that he was ready to play his first NRL game since June 18, 2013.
The Dragons’ were criticised last year for lacking size and coach Paul McGregor has previously said he hoped Packer would add some starch to their forward pack.
Captain Ben Creagh said Packer’s impact was noticeable and predicted his size and go-forward were what the side had been missing for the last several seasons.
“He’s an 120kg forward that we’ve needed for a couple of years now, he carts the ball up hard and he’s pretty imposing as well,” Creagh said.
“Him and Leeson (Ah Mau), Mike Cooper, Jack de Belin, it’s gives us a good forward pack there.”
Packer signed with the club last year but was forced to ply his trade with feeder club the Illawarra Cutters after failing to receive clearance from the NRL.
After a torturous pre-season, he said he was ready to step back up to the NRL.
“I think it was that four months of getting flogged out the back of WIN Stadium (that got him ready for his reintroduction to the NRL),” Packer said.
“This is a different ball game to NSW Cup.
“I’ll do whatever I’m told really – if Mary wants me to play five minutes, I’ll go hard for five. Or 25, whatever.”