St George Illawarra coach Steve Price has brushed aside talk of being under pressure ahead of an NRL season that will determine whether he has a future in the Dragons hot-seat.
The rookie coach had the onerous task of replacing seven-time premiership-winner Wayne Bennett last year, and after a decent start to the season, his side faded in second half of the campaign to finish ninth.
With Price in the final year of his contract, the club actively pursued Craig Bellamy throughout the off-season, before the Melbourne coach finally put pen to paper on a new deal with the Storm last week.
The Dragons have not missed the finals for two successive years since becoming a joint-venture in 1999 and many are predicting another difficult season, something Price is more than happy with.
“Certainly a lot of people have written us off and that’s cool with me and the playing group,” Price said on Thursday.
“Maintaining high standards in our footy club is the biggest focus.
“I’m not feeling pressure. I’m really excited about 2013. I feel I am a lot more mature as a person and a coach than last year.
“I can’t wait to go to Melbourne in round one.”
Price will put the finishing touches to his pre-season preparations against South Sydney in Friday’s annual Charity Shield clash.
His starting line-up includes NSW prop Trent Merrin moving to lock and Matt Prior starting in the front-row.
Representative front-rower Michael Weyman also returns for the first time since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligaments last season.
However, Price admits he’s yet to make up his mind about how the side will look for the season opener against premiers Melbourne at AAMI Park.
“I am mixing things up, everyone will get a run to put their best foot forward for round one in Melbourne,” he said.
“The Charity Shield is always a bit more upmarket and ferocious than a normal trial.
“A number of positions are up for grabs and it’s an opportunity for every player.”
Like Price, South Sydney coach Michael Maguire has named a 22-man squad for the ANZ Stadium encounter.
New signing Ben Te’o will make his debut following his move from Brisbane and Beau Champion plays his first game since rejoining the club from the Gold Coast.
The Rabbitohs lost to Newcastle in last week’s trial in Coffs Harbour and Maguire has reacted by dropping skipper Michael Crocker to the bench.
“It was a disappointing against Newcastle, we didn’t play to our capabilities,” Maguire said.
“I select on performance and Michael understands that.
“He’s the first one to study his performances and he knows that there are guys in front and he has to work hard to get back in the team.”