In a huge boost for the Dragons, star Talatau Amone will play against the Gold Coast Titans on Sunday, after being cleared to resume his NRL career immediately.
Just hours before team lists were named for round two action, the NRL announced it had lifted Amone's no-fault stand-down.
The man better known as Junior was stood down under the no-fault policy in January after appearing in court on a number of charges stemming from an alleged hammer attack on a tradie near his Warrawong home in November.
But on Tuesday the NRL announced it had reversed its decision, allowing St George Illawarra coach Anthony Griffin to pick Amone in the Dragons' first match of the season. He has been named to wear No 21.
Francis Molo, who pleaded guilty to a charge of stalking/intimidating a woman in a domestic setting the week before Christmas, has also been named as a starting prop.
Dragons young gun Jayden Sullivan was expected to get first crack in the No 6 jersey in place of Amone, and has been named to start at five-eighth.
Griffin has also given a debut to teenager Toby Couchman, who will start from the interchange bench in place of injured forward Jack de Belin (calf).
The Dragons also confirmed that Thirroul junior Couchman will be promoted to a top 30 contract.
Couchman and his twin brother Ryan played their junior footy for the Thirroul Butchers and came through the Dragons academy system."
"It's always a rewarding moment to see a local junior make their debut for the Dragons," Dragons football general manager Ben Haran said.
"Toby has a great work ethic and has shown this throughout the pre-season to be given the opportunity to be elevated to the top 30.
"We're looking forward to seeing his development continue alongside his brother Ryan as they are the type of players and people we are looking to build the club around over the coming seasons."
The promotion of Toby into the top 30 leaves the Dragons with one spot left to fill for the 2023 season.
In other team news, while Jack Bird had surgery on a minor knee injury in the off-season, he will start and wear the No.13 jersey against the Titans
The only surprise is that new recruit Jacob Liddle has been named to start on the interchange bench, with Moses Mbye to have first crack at starting hooker.
Other new recruit Ben Murdoch-Masile though has been named to start in the second-row.
The 2023 NRL season shapes as a big one for the Dragons, who last played finals football in 2018, and Griffin, who has guided St George Illawarra to 11th and 10th in his two years in charge to date.
His cause hasn't been helped with more off-field dramas in the off-season.
First there was the Amone issue, then the drama in Mudgee where Dragons winger Mikaele Ravalawa and new recruit Zane Musgrove had to be separated by team-mates after a boozy night ended in a 6am argument outside the team hotel.
The argument came after St George Illawarra's Charity Shield loss to South Sydney.
A week earlier the Dragons also lost to St Helens.
Liddle, who joined the club this season from Wests Tigers, said St George Illawarra players were just looking forward to finally playing some real footy.
"It's been a long pre-season, especially with missing round 1. We are itching even more to get out there and play. The boys are ready to rip in," he said.
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