Dugan centre switch will take time
The St George Illawarra Dragons are likely to persist with turning mercurial fullback Josh Dugan into a right centre, but neither the coach nor the man himself are suggesting he'll fill the now vacant role for the Blues in Origin II.
Dugan had a mixed night in his first outing at right centre – a position that has been an issue for the club since the long-term pectoral injury suffered by Dylan Farrell in Round 6. His 105 metres was the best of the Dragons back five and was paired with a team-high four tackle breaks.
He also made 22 tackles– easily the most of the Dragons backline – defending third in on the right side, but missed three, and produced three errors. He was not complicit in either of South Sydney left-side winger Joel Reddy's tries, which each followed an overlap play, but he did miss a rampaging Sam Burgess on his run to the line.
After the match, Dugan told journalists new coach Paul McGregor [himself an outstanding centre for the Dragons in his playing days] had run the positional switch past him at the start of the week and he'd jumped at the chance, and had also enjoyed a few pointers from recently-retired Dragons centre Matt Cooper.
"First day back this week he kind of brought me in and had a little chat with me and said 'how do I feel about playing right centre' and straight away I said 'yeah, put me there'," Dugan said.
"I'm always up for a challenge and I was pretty excited about it as well, all week I was excited about playing there. I felt there were a couple of things I could work on but I still felt like I played pretty strongly there."
He said Cooper's tips and pointers had been a huge help going into the game. "He'll be there next week and we'll just keep working on it," he added.
His coach was also happy with Dugan's first outing at centre, revealing part of the idea for the switch was to bring in-form fullback Adam Quinlan back up to first grade, as well as to plug the problematic vacant right centre position.
"I think if you look at our start to the year when Adam was at fullback we scored 110 points within the first four rounds [and] we've been lacking a right centre since Dylan Farrell got injured," McGregor said.
"I think it's what's best for the fit of the football team. Putting Adam there, he's been in outstanding form in reserve grade, into a position where he's very good at and we're short a right centre – I thought the combination there was a necessity... the job that Josh did in the centres was quite good."
He said the right centre replacements so far hadn't worked.
"[Dugan is] 110 kilos and defends very well. He jumped at the chance, he actually looked forward to it, he's a team man.
"For him to put his hand up and want to play there, that showed a lot of purpose about how he is with the group and I thought he went very well there. Back on the inside a couple of times – if it was against a lesser side that didn't have the 'D' as good back on the inside he could cause a bit of trouble."
As to whether the experiment will continue in Round 13 against the Sharks at Wollongong, McGregor said: "We'll have another look at it tomorrow and reassess this week. I think for his first game he was very good."
Both McGregor and Dugan deferred any suggestion of Dugan slotting into the right-centre position in Origin II left vacant by Bulldog Josh Morris, who will miss the rest of the interstate series with a knee injury.
"I think we'll worry about next week before we worry about Origin. He's got to worry about the Red V for a week then we'll go from there," McGregor said.
Dugan said Blues selection is "the least of my worries".
"[It was my ] first game at centre and the team's not doing too well at the moment. But there's improvement, I've just got to keep improving," he said.
"In saying that I'd love to be back in the [New South Wales] team and I'd do whatever it takes to play. If that means playing centre or wing I'd definitely put my hand up but my focus is now picking up the little things and doing what it takes for the Dragons."
He said it was a different experience with a different level of fitness, both in terms of the amount of tackling and repeatedly getting back the 10 metres in defence.
"There was a couple of times there I got caught maybe too shallow or too tight and if I'm to keep playing there I've just got to keep working on those little things week in week out. It was my first game out there tonight but I felt pretty comfortable there," he said.
He said he has played a few games at centre at SG Ball level and for NSW in under-18s, as well as defending three in during a short stint at five-eighth for Canberra.
"First game there for me, it was only the second game with Benji [Marshall] playing there as well and we've got Adam Quinlan back at fullback as well. We'll get those combinations right over the next few weeks and keep improving but we've got a short turnaround this week til the Sharks on Saturday."