Veteran Dragons prop Dan Hunt is hopeful of returning from injury in the Charity Shield later this month.
Hunt has been on restricted duties for much of the preseason as he recovers from off-season knee and shoulder surgery, but the Dapto junior is keen to play when Wollongong hosts its first Charity Shield match.
"I'd definitely like to play some time in the Charity Shield, especially being in Wollongong for the first time," he said.
"Sometimes the trials can be like a reserve grade sort of trial and teams don't really play their big players, but the Charity Shield is definitely a tough hit-out.
"It always blows the cobwebs out to start the season so we're lucky to have it and Souths are a quality outfit."
Hunt suffered the season-ending knee injury in round 16 last year and his experience was sorely missed as the Dragons won just one of their remaining nine games.
Coach Steve Price will be sweating on the fitness of the 27-year-old, who will be a stabilising influence on a conspicuously young squad. Hunt, though, won't risk his recovery by returning too soon.
"It's getting there," Hunt said.
"The shoulder's really good and with the knee I'm just taking it one week at a time.
"I haven't been able to do much with the boys because I've been in rehab most of the off-season but the boys have been training really hard.
"It's probably been one of the hardest [preseasons] we've done. The coaching staff have been doing a great job.
"With Paul McGregor on board, he's made a massive difference to our attacking structures and I can see it's all resonated with the boys.
"We're looking forward to putting it out on the field. You can train as much as you want but you don't really start seeing the results until you start playing."
The heavy recruitment drive may have heightened the expectations of the Dragons' faithful fans but Hunt says the squad has not been feeling any added pressure to perform from that quarter.
"The only pressure is the pressure you put on yourself and we're not putting any extra pressure on ourselves," he said.
"Obviously we had a disappointing season last year and we're looking to fix that for this year, but we've got some quality players who've come to the club and a few others coming back from injury, so we're just looking forward to getting on the field."