Dugan faces Origin trial against Stewart
Raiders fullback Josh Dugan's head-to-head battle with the Sea Eagles' former NSW and Australian fullback Brett Stewart at Brookvale Oval on Monday night looms as crucial to ending Canberra's losing streak and enhancing Dugan's Origin chances.
Blues coach Ricky Stuart said on Sunday that he had a "wonderful headache" following some of the performances in the City-Country game on Friday night, with Country's Dugan and City counterpart Jarryd Hayne's duel for fullback among the selection dilemmas.
With the NSW Origin team to be announced on Monday week, Dugan has two golden opportunities to further push his case - the final round nine match at Brookvale against one of the Blues' previous great custodians in Stewart; and again on Saturday night up against the Storm's current Australian and Queensland fullback, Billy Slater.
Stuart wrote in his newspaper column on Sunday: "I like it when Josh Dugan is busy. In fact, both fullbacks play their best football when they are busy and on the ball.
"Dugan is an explosive player who plays his best football when he is around the the ball, something he shares with Jarryd Hayne.
"For his part, Hayne turned the game around, not only with his ability and strength, which we all know is there, but with his guile."
The Raiders will be just as hopeful as Dugan that he will be fit to back up from the weekend's rep duties for Monday's must-win match with Canberra set to equal their worst-ever losing streak of eight if they lose to the Sea Eagles.
Meanwhile the premiership-winning Dragons were in devastating form, crushing the Cowboys 22-8 at WIN Jubilee Oval on Sunday to seal outright first on the ladder (eight wins, one loss) despite missing injured Country rep Jamie Soward and two Kiwi internationals and with six other players backing up from rep duties.
The performance, against a Cowboys side that included Test halfback Johnathan Thurston, enhanced the Origin hopes of Mark Gasnier, Brett Morris, Ben Creagh and possibly even Dean Young as a bolter.
The Storm and Broncos share equal second on the Telstra Premiership ladder after Melbourne, fielding all of its rep players, beat Brisbane 29-22 at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday. The Broncos rested five of their Australian Test stars, including captain Darren Lockyer.
In the only other match of the split round, the Warriors moved into the eight after beating the Titans 34-14 at the Gold Coast on Sunday, with four of their five players backing up from the Test on Friday at the same venue.
Winger Manu Vatuvei, the Warriors record-try scorer, made a surprise return to the NRL from injury, while prop Sam Rapira returned home after being ruled out for four to six weeks after dislocating his thumb.