A Brief History of the Charity Shield
South Sydney Rabbitohs and St George-Illawarra Dragons will compete for the Charity Shield this Saturday, 34 years to the day since the Red V won the first instalment of the annual fixture.
The 9-7 result at Redfern Oval in 1982 lit the fuse for one of the most prestigious pre-season matches on the NRL calendar.
One man who was there that day was South Sydney legend, Mario Fenech.
"To be honest, our rivalry with St George was pretty full on in those days. Even though it was a trial, it was sort of more than a trial. That's the feeling I had," Fenech told NRL.com.
"I like to win at everything, and ultimately, the Charity Shield, it's like a prerequisite for the competition. I don't doubt our boys, and St George - they're a proud club, will aim up as well."
Despite winning two of the past three Charity Shields (last year's encounter finished all square), the Rabbitohs trail the Dragons 16-11 overall, with five of the 32 matches finishing in draws.
The most significant game in the fixture's history was the 2002 encounter at the Sydney Football Stadium, which doubled up as South Sydney's return to the NRL.
"That was extremely historical for Souths, and when you look at it, thank God," Fenech said of the 20-20 draw.
While the Charity Shield is an important date in the rugby league calendar, it's the impact it has off-field that holds special meaning.
"The great thing about the Charity Shield is obviously St George care for their hospitals, and Souths, we care for Sydney Children's Hospital, so it's a great community fundraiser," said the former Souths' skipper.
"I'm still an ambassador for Sydney Children's Hospital in Randwick. I visit there on a regular basis with the Mayor.
"There are times I'm saddened when you see really sick kids there, but I really admire the nurses and doctors. That's what people don't realise. When you talk about great community stuff, a nurse is a pretty good community person. They do a great job."
Souths Cares is the main beneficiary of Charity Shield proceeds for the Rabbitohs. Souths Cares is an independent, not-for-profit, public benevolent institution, established in 2006 to support the local community and address social need across the South Sydney region.
In 2016, the St George Illawarra proceeds from the Charity Shield will support three charities within the Dragons Community program – the St George and Wollongong Public Hospitals and the St.George Foundation.
Connecting with community
Fenech's work in the community has been profound, and the former NRL great puts it down to some sound advice from his father.
"I knew I could have an effect on others, and it was great to be able to support other people," he said.
"My father often said to me 'you connect with the community, and the community will connect with you.' That's the sort of mentality that has stuck with me, and now I'm with One Community. I really enjoy what I do."
The match itself has traditionally been an audition for emerging players to impress coaches and fans alike.
In last year's fixture, Chris Grevsmuhl scored late to secure South Sydney a 12-12 draw. His exploits earned him a spot in the Indigenous All Stars squad the following week, where he also crossed the stripe.
His impressive showings in the pre-season saw him play 22 matches for Souths in 2015, scoring six tries for the defending premiers.
According to Fenech, the 2016 Charity Shield could be a springboard for a host of rookies looking to make a name for themselves.
"We've got a very good junior base. Our Souths Juniors Leagues put a lot of money into footy. We've got a lot of young up and coming players coming through the system," he said.
"Michael Maguire is very conscious of the lower grades and the 20's, so who knows, opportunity might come."
One of the anomalies of the fixture is the winning team generally goes back-to-back. There have only been two cases where the victors failed to repeat the following year (Souths 1984 and Dragons 2007).
The longest winning streak in Charity Shield history is six (Dragons 1993-98). Interestingly, Souths were unbeaten in the previous five contests, winning three and drawing in 1990-91.
The match also provides the NRL with an opportunity to trial new initiatives. Last year saw 10 referees used for the first time, while this year will see the debut of the Bunker for video decisions.
For Fenech, the Charity Shield signals the start of South Sydney's 2016 quest, and a possible return to the heights of 2014.
"I get excited when I hear Charity Shield, because I know it's the first step for the challenge for South Sydney this year," the 274 game veteran told NRL.com.
"You only have to say Charity Shield and you know exactly what it is, that's the great thing about two famous clubs like Souths and St George.
"It'll be a great day, and I don't doubt there will be a big crowd. People are dying for rugby league to come back."
This story first appeared on NRL.com.