Michael Jennings will be out to get the better of NSW teammate Josh Dugan this weekend. Credit: Grant Trouville. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Michael Jennings gave Josh Dugan a crash course in centre play during the pair's time together in NSW Origin camp, but the Roosters three-quarter is hoping his advice doesn't come back to bite him as he returns from injury against the Dragons star on Saturday night.
Roosters v Dragons preview
When Josh Morris was ruled out after his Origin I heroics, Blues coach Laurie Daley gave Dugan a shock call-up at right centre, where the 24-year-old performed above and beyond in keeping Greg Inglis under wraps in just his third top-grade game defending in the front line.
On the opposite side of the field was speedster Jennings, who hasn't played in the six weeks since due to a back injury sustained in NSW's historic 6-4 win. In that time Dugan has gone from strength to strength as club coach Paul McGregor makes noises his switch from fullback to centre could become a permanent one.
Dugan has scored five tries in his five games out on the Dragons' right edge and has broken the line just as frequently, while also averaging four tackle breaks a game. Jennings said his Blues teammate's rapid transition to his new position had not surprised him in the slightest, and revealed he had given Dugan a few pointers during their preparation for the interstate clash.
"When we were in camp helping him out, making him feel comfortable [in the centres] was talked about," Jennings said.
"The main thing during the camp was that he's a natural athlete, I knew he was going to get the job done.
"Everyone got around him and had confidence in his ability and that's what gave him a big boost.
"I'm not surprised at all. He's a natural athlete and any position that you put him in I think he'll adapt well.
"[Lining up against Dugan] is a great challenge for me especially to see where I'm at.
"'Doogs' has been playing some great footy, so I think that's a personal challenge for me to see if I'm 100 per cent fit, so I can't wait really."
Jennings' return is a welcome one for the Roosters, who find themselves just two points ahead of the 10th-placed Dragons on the competition ladder, and will be without star back-rower Sonny Bill Williams (thumb) and utility Mitch Aubusson (ankle), as well as already injured Blues winger Daniel Tupou (back).
Jennings said he had not felt any added pressure personally from the premiers' lean run of recent times – which has seen them drop games to competition stragglers Cronulla and Newcastle in the last three weeks – though he admitted the weight of expectation, as well as the consistent stream of injuries, may be affecting some of the Roosters younger players.
"We've been hit with some injuries which has slowed us down a bit, and chopping and changing with young players coming in," Jennings said.
"For younger fellas I guess it is a lot to ask for them. There's a lot of expectations there but I think all we've really got to do is focus on ourselves and not worry about what everyone else looking in is seeing what's wrong with us, we've just got to worry about ourselves.
"It hasn't been the best year but coming to the back end we know that we want to win all these games to roll into the finals.
"But this week is mainly about winning this week. We can't worry about the other games, we've got to focus on this week at the moment and work from that."