By Jack Brady (NRL.com)
Dane Nielsen never really had any other choice but to become a Dragons fan growing up. It's a fact which makes his Charity Shield call-up this weekend – his second appearance in the Red V jumper – all the more special.
Born and raised in Mackay, coincidentally the location of his first St George Illawarra appearance last weekend, Nielsen followed suit of his father and grandfather before him who were huge Dragons fans.
After playing stints at Cronulla, Melbourne and New Zealand during his time in the NRL, Nielsen found the opportunity to play at the Dragons too good to refuse despite having a year to run on his Warriors contract.
"I've been at a couple of clubs now so it's been exciting to come to the Dragons obviously, being a long-time supporter," Nielsen told NRL.com.
"It's pretty cool that I've been given an opportunity to come here, and to put the Red V jumper on for the first time last weekend was pretty amazing.
"It has been refreshing to come back to Australia with the Dragons. It has been a big change for me but a good change, a change I needed I think, and the boys have been really good to me."
While Nielsen kicked off his Dragons career with a try in a 40-minute stint against the Mackay Cutters, the big test lies in the annual Charity Shield clash against reigning premiers and Auckland Nines winners the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
A long-time viewer of the Charity Shield, Nielsen – and the childhood Dragons fan within – is genuinely excited and can sense his teammates are too after being named in the centres to take on a very strong Rabbitohs outfit.
"I've always watched the Charity Shield over the years and I'm stoked that I'm able to be given this opportunity to play this weekend," said Nielsen.
"The boys all seem pretty excited too because we still have a fairly big squad here that needs to be trimmed down meaning the competition for spots is pretty strong at the moment.
"Obviously some of the boys played some pretty strong football at both the Nines and up in Mackay but I think the fact we're playing South Sydney, who are obviously pretty successful at the moment, we're expecting a huge game."
After a disappointing final season with the Warriors, Nielsen is focused on getting his NRL career back on track.
Considering his five-year stint at the Melbourne Storm was so successful, Nielsen's return to Australia has given him the chance to rebuild his career after spending only half the season in first grade last year.
"It was a completely different culture at the Warriors. Being with Melbourne for five years and getting used to your surroundings and the style of football that they played, it obviously all changed when I went to New Zealand," said Nielsen.
"It wasn't one particular thing why the Warriors didn't work out.
"I think I wasn't expecting such a big change when I went over there.
"I essentially didn't fit in as much as I would've liked too.
"I tried to make the most of it but it just didn't happen.
"I gave myself no choice but to return to Australia and spend a couple of years at the Dragons."
Dragons coach Paul McGregor's decision to recruit the experienced Nielsen looks like a savvy one considering the squad's vast number of rookie backs.
Nielsen has set himself the goal of returning to the form which saw him earn three Origin caps for the Maroons between 2011 and 2012.
"I'll play anywhere as long as I'm playing in the NRL and the team and 'Mary' [McGregor] want me there. It's just about becoming a better player," said Nielsen.
"I've been around for a while now and I've been lucky enough to play in some really big matches with my time at the Storm.
"I've gained a lot of experience over the years but I'm still looking to improve myself.
"If there's any way I can help whether at training or during games then I definitely will.
"I know when I was coming up as a young centre I remember older players doing that for me so I know how beneficial it can be."
The Dragons will be auctioning the player-worn Charity Shield jerseys with proceeds donated to the St George and Wollongong Public Hospitals.
The auction will commence following the final whistle with Red V Members and supporters alike able to bid until 9.00pm on Thursday, February 12.
Visit www.dragons.com.au for further details on how you can bid on your favourite player’s jersey!