Former Kiwi Test prop Russell Packer has made a successful debut for St George Illawarra as the Dragons easily accounted for Wynnum Manly 50-6 in a trial game at Redlands Junior Rugby League on Saturday night.
Looking to push his way into the Dragons' 17 for Round 1 and play his first NRL game since June 18, 2013, Packer took the very first hit-up of the night and came up with a number of further powerful charges in his opening 24-minute stint on the field.
He returned to start the second half, working hard defensively as well as attracting four Wynnum defenders who held him up under the posts early in the second half and said he was pleased that he and the rest of the team got through unscathed.
"The game served its purpose. Everyone got the minutes that the coach wanted and I thought we did pretty well against a Queensland Cup team," Packer told NRL.com after the game.
"It will be good to build on that for the next game against Souths in the Charity Shield.
"I felt pretty gassed in the first stint but the first trial game always serves its purpose of blowing the cobwebs out.
"It's been a hard four-and-a-half months and it's good to be in the Red V, to be in a Dragons jersey and playing with the boys."
Reigning Dragons player of the year Leeson Ah Mau was the most damaging forward on the field as the Wynnum defence struggled to quell his momentum while former Storm player Shaun Nona was a surprise starter at halfback.
Nona left the Storm during the off-season to sign with the Mackay Cutters but walked out on the club without ever playing a game, telling them that he had secured a deal with St George Illawarra.
That was news to the Dragons but he has since signed a contract with NSW Cup club and Dragons feeder team the Illawarra Cutters and was also impressive partnering Gareth Widdop in the halves, playing the full 80 minutes.
"Shaun is a great player and he showed tonight what he is all about and he's got an opportunity and like I keep saying there are a lot of opportunities for a lot of guys," said Widdop in his first official hit-out as Dragons skipper.
"There were a lot of young players who it was the first time I'd met them this week and then playing alongside them."
With Widdop not returning for the second 40 minutes Nona was left in control and laid on the first try of the second half with a perfectly judged grubber kick for fellow Cutter Blake Wallace to collect underneath the posts, Wallace's conversion extending the lead to 28 points.
Walllace showed off a left-foot step Brad Fittler would be proud of to score his second in the 58th minute and then added a third 15 minutes from full-time in an eye-catching performance in elite company.
A spirited Wynnum defence wasn't broken or the first time until the 11th minute when a typically acrobatic Jason Nightingale crossed in the left-hand corner and when Peter Mata'utia grabbed a double inside the space of 10 minutes the Dragons had skipped away to a 16-0 lead.
Having come onto the field to replace Packer Shannon Wakeman provided the impetus for the fourth try of the first half, busting straight through the Wynnum defence before handing off to Adam Quinlan to score under the posts two minutes before the break.
Others to impress in their first start in the Red V were former Warriors hooker Siliva Havili and former Roosters centre Tahne Milne while Mata'utia showed why the Dragons were so reluctant to release him to the Titans with a classy stint of 55 minutes in the centres.
St George Illawarra 50 (Blake Wallace 3, Peter Mata'utia 2, Jason Nightingale, Adam Quinlan, Patrick Herbert, Sam Coster tries; Gareth Widdop 3, Wallace 4 goals) def Wynnum Manly 6 (Matthew Seamark try; Seamark goal) at Redlands Junior Rugby League.