McGregor mulls blooding exciting Dragons rookies
Dragons coach Paul McGregor says gifted fullback Matt Dufty and lightning-fast halfback Jai Field have the rest of the pre-season to stake their claims for a Round 1 berth.
When the Dragons team for Round 1 is revealed, it's unlikely either will start but both are knocking on the door and will get their chance to impress at this weekend's Auckland Nines.
Both are small by NRL standards but exceedingly quick – 19-year-old Field is the fastest at the club over 40 metres – and 21-year-old Dufty has a dominant record at NYC level.
A pair of more experienced first graders – Josh McCrone and Kurt Mann – currently have their noses in front for the No.7 jersey in Round 1 (with former Cutters playmaker Shaun Nona also in the frame) while Kangaroos centre Josh Dugan is almost certain to start the year at fullback.
But McGregor said he's focused on talent rather than size, and if the pair are good enough, they're old enough.
"It's only training now, we've got to put people in front of them," he said of the fringe playmakers.
"The main focus is giving them opportunity to impress and even opportunity to impress in the trial, that's the most important thing… those guys will get some good opportunity during those trials and which one comes out of that we'll know in Round 1."
McGregor praised Field's input at training.
"The biggest thing there is he's a very resilient kid and handles training quite well which is great," McGregor said.
"It's his first pre-season, he's handled the last three months, hasn't missed any contact. He's our fittest and our quickest player and that's important when a young man is coming through but he's untried so the trials will really see how he stands up but if he gets through that well and he performs better than the other players, he'll get the opportunity."
Dufty may also get a run at fullback sooner rather than later but McGregor ruled out phasing him in via the wing.
"He's a fullback because he's a very good ball playing type player so he'd be wasted on the wing," he said.
"You need a bit of size bringing the ball back on the wings whereas his talent lies in his ball playing ability and his speed."
While Dugan will start Round 1, Dufty will get a chance to impress through the pre-season.
"Duff's going to get a really good opportunity through the trials because Josh won't play that Tigers trial. If Duff comes up with something special things can change pretty quickly in rugby league because Josh can play right centre but we've got to remember Duff's only first year out of NYC.
"The best thing for Duff now is to keep concentrating and working hard at training and take that opportunity through the trials and you never know. Again, if he's good enough he'll be getting an opportunity in first grade… He's a very talented footballer."