NYC star who could ignite Dragons' attack
While Josh Dugan will most likely be the man to start the 2017 season at fullback for the St George Illawarra Dragons, Holden Cup graduate Matt Dufty is waiting in the wings to help the Red V address their recent attacking struggles.
Only the Knights (305) scored fewer points than the Dragons (341) in 2016, with the Red V making it back-to-back seasons as the second-lowest scoring team in the competition following their 435-point haul in 2015.
One man who has no problems finding the line is Dufty, who finished his NYC career as the leading try-scorer in the competition's history with 55 from 65 appearances in the famous red and white jersey.
With 23 tries and 22 try assists last season, as well as 11 tries and 18 assists in 2015, Dufty could be the attacking spark the Dragons need to fight their way back into the Telstra Premiership top eight.
The Junior Blues fullback – who also earned a spot on the bench in the NYC Team of the Year – forewent several opportunities to play in the Intrust Super Premiership last season to focus on his Holden Cup duties, but said he'd be willing to spend some time in reserve grade to gain some experience against more-seasoned opposition in 2017.
While Dufty would love to don the No.1 jersey from the get-go next year, the youngster knows Dugan will get first crack if he chooses to remain at fullback rather than entertain a move to the centres.
"The goal is to play NRL next year. I might not start the year there, but hopefully as the year goes on I'll get a few games," Dufty told NRL.com.
"I had a talk to Mary (Dragons coach Paul McGregor) about it last year whether he wanted me to play NSW Cup or 20s, and he told me it wouldn't have really changed what happened next year going forward.
"I played 90 per cent of the year in the NYC and I felt I owed it to my teammates to try to get them to that grand final.
"Mary talks to me all the time. He gives me lots of feedback. I'm pretty confident that he is going to give me a shot next year.
"I'm hoping next year is going to be a big year for me. It really depends on what Mary and Josh Dugan want to do, because he's really the one person in front of me. He's a world-class player so it's really up to Mary and what he wants."
The Penshurst RSL junior is listed at just 80kg – 22kg lighter than Dugan – but doesn't think his weight would hold him back from making his NRL debut.
Where Dugan uses his size to get his side on the front foot, Dufty uses his incredible speed and sleight of hand to trouble opposition defences.
"I'm not the biggest guy running around but I find it fun just running around people," he said.
"Mary's not too fussed about my weight because I just use speed and my skills, but the dietician wants me to put on a few more kilos just to be safe."
Should Dufty bulk up in the off-season, the 20-year-old's utility value would soar.
"Growing up I played in the halves so I wouldn't mind if Mary gave me a shot wherever and I'd take it with both hands," he said.
"It would mean the world because growing up as a kid – especially in the St George area – you want to make that debut just to make family and friends proud."