Dragons picture perfect for Charity Shield

RUGBY LEAGUE

Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop believes the intensity of Saturday's Charity Shield match could give the Dragons an edge come round one of the NRL season.

With a trophy on the line and a fierce rivalry between two of the NRL's proudest clubs, the annual Charity Shield clash is a definite step up from the average preseason trial.

It will be Widdop's WIN Stadium debut and the former Melbourne Storm star is keen to give Wollongong fans a taste of things to come in 2014.

"It's probably the closest thing you get to a regular season match, so the intensity is going to be high," Widdop said.

"It's a great test for us as a team to see exactly where we're at, especially against the Rabbitohs who are one of the benchmark teams in the competition.

"It's a big game against good opposition and it's going to be great leading into the season opener with a really good, solid trial under our belt.

"I haven't felt the full brunt of the Dragons fans yet but I'm really looking forward to it, they've got a great supporter base down here [in Wollongong] and hopefully it's a packed house on Saturday."

Coach Steve Price rested Widdop from the weekend's Auckland Nines in an effort to freshen up the England international following last year's World Cup.

In his absence the Dragons suffered hefty losses to Souths (23-4) and Penrith (23-8) on day one before a face-saving 14-10 victory over Melbourne on Sunday.

Widdop doesn't expect the tournament to have a huge bearing on the NRL season proper.

"I don't think you can read too much into the Nines going forward into the regular season," Widdop said.

"It's a totally different game, it's all about throwing the ball around and kicking on tackle one and things like that.

"We managed to get one win over there, we obviously would have liked to go on and win, but the real stuff starts this week."

While his halves partner for round one remains a mystery, Widdop said his budding combination with fullback Josh Dugan has the potential to be just as lethal as the one he formed with the world's best custodian, Billy Slater, in Melbourne.

"Obviously I've played alongside one of the best fullbacks in Bill, but Josh Dugan is one of the best fullbacks going around as well," Widdop said.

"With the nines everything's been a little bit all over the shop in terms of trials and we haven't had too many games together but it's [combination] coming along well.

"The more we play together during the games ... I think we'll become better and better."

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