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From the moment Craig Young’s Saints marched into Redfern Oval on February 13, 1982 and whacked their way to a 9-7 win over Souths in the inaugural Charity Shield, the annual pre-season clash has packed more punch than your average trial game.

For four decades these two fierce rivals have squared off with one goal in mind – making a statement of intent for the season. And if you can make that statement at the expense of a sworn enemy, then all the sweeter.

Back in 1982, the Rabbitohs and Dragons played for a $2000 purse, with the rest of the gate receipts donated to the South Sydney and St George hospitals.

With hardheads like Young, Rod Reddy, John Jansen and Pat Jarvis squaring off against Tony Rampling, Gary Hambly and Ken Stewart, that two grand cheque was the only charity on show.

In his first year as head coach of St George, Roy Masters inherited a side that had won just 11 games in ’81 and finished behind the Bunnies on the ladder, but that wasn’t going to stop him talking up the Red V.

Ben Hunt lifts Charity Shield for the Dragons

“We’ll beat Souths for sure,” Masters said, despite the form guide showing a loss to Easts in a trial earlier in the week.

And beat the Bunnies they did in a torrid tussle that had referee Denis Braybrook on his toes and the raucous Redfern crowd on their feet as the tone was set for the 38 Charity Shields that have followed.

From South Sydney heartland to ANZ Stadium to picturesque Mudgee, the ‘unfriendly friendly’ has produced 18 wins for Souths, 17 for the Red V and five draws, including the emotion charged 2002 encounter which marked the Rabbitohs' return to the NRL after two years in exile.

Latrell with the freakish offload for Walker

In front of 36,804 true believers at Aussie Stadium, a Rabbitohs side cobbled together for readmission to the competition was expected to be easy fodder for a Dragons team coming off a semi-final finish in 2001.

Feeding off the energy of their delirious fans, Craig Coleman's men did the famous jersey proud, twice clawing back from 10 points down to walk away with a 20-20 draw which was celebrated with all the gusto of a premiership.

A month later the Rabbitohs crashed back to earth with a 40-6 loss to the Roosters in the opening game of the NRL season, setting the tone for a gruelling campaign that produced just five wins.

The next decade would deliver three wooden spoons and a lone finals appearance in 2007 before the arrival of Michael Maguire signalled the beginning of a new era.

He may have lost his first Charity Shield clash as Souths mentor in 2012 but big wins followed in 2013-14 as the Big Four of Inglis, Reynolds, Burgess and Sutton laid the pre-season groundwork for a trip to the preliminary final in '13 and the decider a year later, where they broke a 43-year drought in emphatic fashion.

Match Highlights: Dragons v Rabbitohs

Fresh off that 30-6 grand final win over Canterbury, the Rabbitohs returned to the scene of that triumph four months later and slugged it our for a 12-12 draw with the Dragons before winning six on the trot between 2016-21.

Try as they might, the Dragons couldn’t find a way to stem the tide, the Rabbitohs racking up 182 points to 98 across those six matches to keep the shield firmly in their possession.

The highlights would come thick and fast for the Rabbitohs, from Damien Cook’s magical chip kick for Braidon Burns to score wide out in a 32-14 win in 2017 to the Latrell Mitchell-Cody Walker double act in Mudgee in 2021, when Souths cruised home 48-16.

To the Dragons’ credit they broke the drought in 2022 when the left edge of Ben Hunt, Jack Bird, Moses Suli and Cody Ramsey clicked into gear in a 16-10 win.

Bunnies in control

In their fifth visit to Glen Willow Stadium the Red V finally tasted success to square the Charity Shield ledger at 17 wins apiece before the Bunnies made hay in Mudgee last year to rack up a 42-24 victory in sweltering conditions.

Like each and every Charity Shield since ’82, the step up in intensity from other trial games let the Dragons and Rabbitohs know the real thing was just around the corner.

And so it is again in 2024 as the Charity Shield returns to Sydney and is staged deep in Dragons territory at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium for the first time.

It may be Red V heartland but the Rabbitohs are the 'home' team on Saturday and they would love nothing better than to make a statement of intent against an old rival in their own backyard.

For the Dragons, a new coach means a new approach, and their army of fans will hope that translates into a change of fortune after five years outside the finals.

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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