6 players to watch at the Charity Shield
A combined 48 players have been named for this weekend's Charity Shield, giving a plethora of South Sydney and St George-Illawarra squad members the perfect opportunity to make a name for themselves.
With a number of regular starters featuring in the NRL All Stars match in Brisbane, and others unavailable through injury, Saturday night's contest shapes as a legitimate audition for players looking to crack into the first-grade squads for their respective clubs.
NRL.com looks at six players who could star in this weekend's Charity Shield.
6. Paul Carter (Rabbitohs)
After joining the club as a mid-season recruit in 2015, 23-year-old Carter managed just four games for the Rabbitohs. The former Titan – who was cut by the club for disciplinary reasons – has mainly been used as a running dummy-half in his two seasons in the NRL. However, the son of former Penrith great Steve Carter made his name in the NYC as a forward, where he was named best lock for the 2012 season. His offloading ability and seemingly endless motor earned him comparisons to Paul Gallen. On Saturday, he'll get the chance to play in his preferred position, but competition will be fierce to wear the South Sydney No.13 in 2016 with Sam Burgess returning to the club.
5. Siliva Havili (Dragons)
With Heath L'Estrange (retired) and Craig Garvey (Bulldogs) leaving the club at the end of last year, opportunities have arisen for a back-up hooker to Mitch Rein. Having struggled for game time at the Warriors, Havili has made a fresh start at the Dragons where he hopes to earn a spot on the bench. The dynamic dummy-half has already represented both Tonga and New Zealand at international level, and was a member of the Warriors squad that won the 2011 under-20s title. An impressive showing on Saturday night could see him add to his 14 NRL games.
4. Hymel Hunt (Rabbitohs)
With Alex Johnston out through injury, an opening has been made available for a handful of skilful South Sydney backs. Hymel Hunt – the cousin of Karmichael – gets first crack in the centres on Saturday night. After starring for the Titans in the NYC, Hunt made the move south to link up with the Melbourne Storm. Opportunities were limited for the 2013 NYC Centre of the Year, who played three NRL games during the Origin period, scoring on debut. With Bryson Goodwin and Kirisome Auva'a expected to start the season in the centres, the highly gifted Hunt can use Saturday's game as good experience should he break into the first-grade squad later in the year.
3. Russell Packer (Dragons)
Along with Tim Lafai, new Dragons recruit Russell Packer is expected to make his club debut in Round 1 against the Storm. Remarkably, the former Warrior debuted in the NRL back in 2008, when he was just 18. After earning huge raps in the NYC, Packer went on to play 110 games for the Warriors from 2008 to 2013. Having spent 12 months behind bars, Packer returned to rugby league in 2015 a changed man, impressing the Illawarra Cutters with his work ethic. Packer earned high praise from teammates after his strong showing in last week's trial against Wynnum Manly, and is on track to start for the club in Round 1.
2. Cody Walker (Rabbitohs)
The former Queensland Cup Player of the Year was one of the hottest players on the open market two seasons ago, with Souths quick to pounce and signing the 26-year-old to a two-year deal. Having plied his trade for the Easts Tigers and North Sydney Bears in reserve grade, 2016 could be the year the electric half gets his shot in the NRL. With Luke Keary suspended for the opening round of the season Walker has the chance to lock in an NRL debut if he can impress coaching staff on Saturday night.
1. Kurt Mann (Dragons)
Mann's arrival at the Red V has added to speculation that Josh Dugan is set to switch to the centres. The 22-year-old spent the past two seasons at the Storm scoring 10 tries from his 28 appearances, including the match-winner on his NRL debut against Manly. Mann was used primarily as a centre in Melbourne, but he'll get the chance to show off his other skills when he dons the No.1 for the Dragons on Saturday night. Fullback is said to be his preferred position, and with established centres such as Tim Lafai and Euan Aitken already at the club, Mann will be keen to make the fullback spot his own with a dominant display against the Bunnies.