St George Illawarra Dragons prepare for 2019 season opener against North Queensland - and no Johnathan Thurston

Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP Image
Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP Image

Like many NRL clubs, St George lllawarra will be delighted that the footy is finally back.

The Dragons start their 2019 campaign on Saturday night, with St George Illawarra to travel to Townsville to take on North Queensland in their season opener after a torrid summer.

An unsettled off-season has seen the Dragons likely lose State of Origin forward Jack de Belin indefinitely.

At time of going to print on Monday, St George Illawarra were not expected to name de Belin for round one as he continued his legal bid to play.

De Belin was to return to the Federal Court on Thursday, with the 28-year-old testing the legality of the NRL's rule used to stand him down.

Coach Paul McGregor is expected to go with a similar side beaten by South Sydney in the Charity Shield a fortnight ago, with Dragons fans to get their first look at St George Illawarra's exciting new spine in competitive action.

​Gareth Widdop is likely to start his final season in the red V at fullback, with new signing Corey Norman joining former Queensland No.7 Ben Hunt in the halves.

Cameron McInnes remains at hooker, while Tyson Frizell is expected to shift to lock in de Belin's absence.

It's back: (Above) Gareth Widdop at last week's season launch. (Below) Tariq Sims. Picture: Janie Barrett

It's back: (Above) Gareth Widdop at last week's season launch. (Below) Tariq Sims. Picture: Janie Barrett

The Dragons will also be the first team to take on North Queensland in the post-Johnathan Thurston era.

The champion halfback retired at the end of last season, with new Cowboys captain Michael Morgan taking over in the No.7 jersey.

While St George Illawarra limped into last season's finals before their gallant exit to Souths, North Queensland are looking to bounce back from a disappointing campaign where they finished 13th

Meanwhile, St George Illawarra have reportedly entered into negotiations to extend McGregor's contract.

McGregor is off contract at the end of the season, with a two-year extension hoped to be signed in the near future.

Winger Jordan Pereira, who will play just his 10th NRL game against the Cowboys, has been rewarded for a strong pre-season with a one-year contract extension.

The 25-year-old had only re-signed with the Dragons for two years in September. The club have given him an extra year, taking his contract to the end of the 2021 season.

"The long-term future is the key for me. The security is huge for my partner and I," Pereira said. 

"This will open many opportunities for us in the future as far as kids, buying a house and other things we're looking forward to.

"When I arrived at the Dragons, I knew I wasn't ready to play first grade but I knew if I was going to be ready I'd have to become a sponge and soak up all the information of the leaders and coaching staff around me.

"They have been crucial for my development and the best thing is that I'm still learning."