Questions abound … the Dragons train for their Charity Shield clash. Photo: Greg Totman
1.Will Souths miss Dave Taylor?
The Rabbitohs have lost arguably the most unique player in the competition: an imposing forward with size, power and an occasional deft touch. But, in gaining Ben Te'o as a replacement, have they actually lost much? Arguably no. They are not quite like-for-like players, but Te'o can be as destructive as most in the competition, should provide more consistency and seems to be still improving. He will play his first match for the Rabbitohs in the Charity Shield, giving Souths fans an early feel of just how big the hole left by Taylor's departure will be, if indeed it turns out to be a hole at all.
2. Have the Dragons found a fullback?
It took until the opening rounds of last season for Souths to have their fullback problems solved, through the switch of Greg Inglis from centre. With Inglis invariably potent from the back, the Rabbitohs flourished last season. The Dragons struggled to find a fullback, using wingers Brett Morris and Jason Nightingale, and their premiership form stuttered. The position has become so important these days; the top four teams last year each had top-class fullbacks. So it's over to you, Gerard Beale, who had been unable to play his preferred position regularly at the Broncos. Dragons supporters will be eager to see how he compares with a player like Inglis, who seems to be even fitter and stronger than he was last season.
3. Same question. This time the halfback.
In fact, there are many questions one could ask about the Dragons' halves. Their first-choice halfback, Kyle Stanley, was injured in the pre-season, leaving coach Steve Price to turn to a veteran in Nathan Fien to replace the retired veteran in Ben Hornby. That said, they have a relative unknown with the ability to make his mark in 2013, the former Manly NYC captain Josh Drinkwater. The youngster will play in the Charity Shield off the bench, but Price will need only look to his opponents for proof that pitching a young, keen and talented player into the NRL can turn around a club's fortunes. After guiding Souths so well through 2012, halfback Adam Reynolds will be out to prove second-year syndrome is a myth.
4. How are the Dragons placed moving forward?
Or specifically, forwards. The Rabbitohs have an imposing pack, so the Dragons can put the rest of the premiership on notice with a strong display up front. Price is clearly still playing around with combinations; Matt Prior will start up front with Michael Henderson, while Trent Merrin has been named at lock. Michael Weyman will play off the bench while Dan Hunt has been left out as a precaution after recent hamstring troubles. Having a good fullback and halfback will mean little if the Dragons' forward pack struggles.
5. How will Souths respond to high expectation?
What? People expect Souths to excel? The Rabbitohs have not been in this position since Craig Coleman had a mullet. Many thought the Rabbitohs would improve last year, and they did, perhaps beyond the expectations of most. Yet after finishing with a preliminary final appearance, many now expect them to end their season a week later in 2013. Their ability to achieve that will be determined partly by how they respond to those expectations, as a team which for so long did not know how to win. Souths are heavily favoured to defeat the Dragons, so we should be given some idea of how they will fare as a favourite.
6. Are these teams destined for the finals?
The Charity Shield is unlikely to answer that question. The clash is invariably willing but has not been a good gauge of form. In the past eight seasons, only twice have the Charity Shield winners finished higher at the end of the subsequent season than their opponents.