Public's perception of Dugan is wrong: Woods
Prime Minister's XIII captain Aaron Woods believes criticism of teammate Josh Dugan has been unfair and has backed coach Mal Meninga's decision to select the Sharks-bound centre for next Saturday's match in Papua New Guinea.
Dugan and fellow Blue, Blake Ferguson, became scapegoats for New South Wales' State of Origin series loss after it emerged that the pair had been drinking at the Lennox Point Hotel five days out from the decider.
The public's perception of the damaging ball-runner intensified when he was stood down for St George Illawarra's must-win Round 25 match against the Panthers for missing the team bus on the day of the game.
However, according to Woods – who has played with Dugan at both state and national level – the hysteria surrounding the star centre is unwarranted.
"Duges is a legend [of a] bloke," Woods told media outside the Sydney Cricket Ground.
"A lot of people get an outside-in look at it and think he's a goose, but he's one of my closest mates since I've been in Origin and I've always got along with him really well.
"I always tell people not to judge a book by its cover because he's such a good bloke once you get to meet him. He gets along with his missus really well and he's a family man so it was just a bad decision by him. When you lose a series in Origin you look for reasons why we lost and it (the Lennox Point incident) all came out a fair bit later."
Woods also praised Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga for his willingness to give players a second chance, citing Andrew Fifita's recall for the Anzac Test as a perfect example after the powerhouse prop was not considered for last year's Four Nations tour due to his public support for one-punch killer Kieran Loveridge.
"Mal is the type of bloke who shows a lot of faith in those guys and when you get selected in these teams, you've got to repay the faith. He brought Andrew Fifita in at the start of the year and he's been playing some enormous footy," Woods said.
"But just because you're there, doesn't mean you've made it; you've still got to show Mal why he's picked you."
Meninga will likely speak to Dugan in detail about the Round 25 no-show in the coming days but has backed the seven-Test veteran to play a starring role in Port Moresby as Australia's World Cup preparations ramp up.
"He's remorseful; there's no doubt about that," the Kangaroos coach said.
"He put his hand up and he admitted that he was wrong in this instance and I think that's worthy. He has done nothing wrong by the Kangaroos and our ethos either so that's why he's here. He's been a very valued member in our organisation in the green and gold jersey and I expect him to be like that in the future."
Meninga has also thrown Raiders back-rower Josh Papalii a lifeline after he was stood down for the mid-year Test after pleading guilty to a drink-driving charge.
"We're not all perfect and there are a lot of redemptive features about the way we think and the way we behave as part of the Kangaroos," he said.
"Josh has paid his dues and he's had a very good year. He's just missed out on the Meninga Medal (Canberra's best and fairest) down there so he's in a good spot. A run up in Papua New Guinea will do his chances the world of good."