Dufty beats drum for long-term stint at fullback
Matt Dufty’s position in the St George Illawarra Dragons’ spine has been likened to that of a budding percussionist who is "in a four-piece band looking for a regular drummer".
That quote, courtesy of Dragons director of list management Ian Millward, sums up the situation the in-form fullback is in as he aims to become a long-term member of the side’s spine alongside hooker Cameron McInnes and halves Gareth Widdop and Ben Hunt.
Dufty, a Dragons junior, certainly hit all the right notes in the 54-8 thrashing of the Gold Coast Titans where he scored a hat-trick and was involved in plenty.
The Dragons have signed Hunt for life while Widdop and McInnes are both on board until the end of 2021.
When Josh Dugan joined the Sharks, a window opened for a fullback to stake his claim.
Despite playing just seven NRL games in 2017, the Dragons extended Dufty's deal to the end of 2019 with the hope that he would prove he was the man to hopefully become their long-term custodian.
"There were probably four youngsters in our ranks that we wanted to give an opportunity to and create a pathway for and Duff got the jump on the other guys," Millward told NRL.com.
"Our long-term goal is to have a long-term spine and we gave Duff an extra year before the season started to give him some confidence, stability and a great opportunity to nail that spot.
"If he does well, he will join the other three…although obviously, we would have to negotiate with his agent.
"He loves playing for the Dragons. He’s a Dragon junior and if he takes his opportunity, he will reap the benefits.
"It is a bit like he is in a four-piece band looking for a regular drummer."
Millward said Dufty still had plenty of development to do but noted his "genuine speed, genuine vision and passing ala Ben Barba", and his record of scoring the most tries in under 20s history.
Dufty told NRL.com he knew in the pre-season the fullback spot was "up for grabs" and that he needed to improve a key area to stake his claim.
"I wasn’t the best trainer and when I was 18 or 19, my mindset was that I was just going to make it, but [former under 20s coach] Ben Hornby took me aside and said if I wanted to play first grade for a long time, it was all about the little one-per-centers," he said.
"I trained really hard this pre-season and did everything the best I could. Then coming into the trials, I knew I had to play good footy and Mary [Paul McGregor] gave me the shot for round one."
Dufty said he had relished playing off the back of Widdop and Hunt's magic.
"It is a once in a lifetime combination and having them both inside you giving you the ball, you can't ask for anything more," he said.
"Hunty hadn't played with us before and in the pre-season there was a real big emphasis on him getting that combination with Gareth. The trials showed us we still needed a bit of work and the spine went away and put in the hard yards and since round one we've been firing."
To hark back to Millward's "drummer" reference, if the Dragons spine is a four-piece band then they are playing like The Beatles in their prime, with Dufty in the role of Ringo Starr.
He certainly starred against the Titans, although he is savvy enough to realise that three outstanding performances don't make a season.
"That was only my 10th NRL game. I've still got a lot of work to do and I am ready to do it," he said.