Dugan as Blues fullback a 'no brainer'
Tackle-busting James Tedesco may have been stealing all the headlines but in the space of 80 minutes on Thursday night St George Illawarra custodian Josh Dugan again displayed why he must be the New South Wales fullback for Game One on June 1.
Stunned by a potential neck injury when his head was driven awkwardly and accidentally into the Suncorp Stadium turf in the opening five minutes of the game, Dugan responded with a performance that was close to best on ground despite the lopsided 26-0 scoreline going the way of the Broncos.
He ran for a staggering 288 metres, made five tackle busts and one line break and was invariably the one at the bottom of the ruck when the Broncos endeavoured to barge their way over the try-line.
His positional play at the back defused many attacking kicks into the Dragons' in-goal and after a failed experiment in the centres early in the season can now be pencilled in at the top of the Blues' team list by NSW coach Laurie Daley.
"I'd be very comfortable if he was the No.1 for New South Wales," said Dragons coach Paul McGregor after the game, himself a 14-time Origin representative for NSW.
"He's the incumbent and he got man of the series last year so someone would have to play very well to dislodge him from that position.
"I think he's a natural Origin player the way he plays. He's a big man at the back and he gets you forward well so for me it's a no brainer."
Euan Aitken was the man squeezed out of the Dragons' backline when Dugan was used in the centres for the first two weeks of the season and predicted that his game will only flourish now that he has returned to his favoured No.1 jersey.
"I reckon that's his spot at fullback. You can see him in open space a lot more and you saw that tonight," Aitken told NRL.com.
"He made a couple of great runs at the back of the field from kicks and you need that as a fullback. He offers that and tonight he was ball-playing well.
"He's going to keep improving and I think people have backed him not to play fullback as much but I think he's a great fullback.
"You can see his game's improving out the back of shape and he's going to see more try assists this year I think."
Dugan was the highlight of a Dragons' display that failed to yield any points for the second week in succession but Aitken was adamant that the signs were positive for more fruitful returns as early as next week against the Titans.
"Our attack was way better tonight than what we did against the Cowboys and we really should have scored a couple of tries," Aitken said.
"It's a bit of confidence. We've had a couple of tough losses now so we just need to get back to the drawing board and keep executing the plan and I think the plan will show that we can attack and attack really well.
"In a couple of weeks' time we'll have forgotten about how our attack's not working at the moment and I can't wait for that to happen."