Dragons players have backed Cody Ramsey's move to the No.1 jersey and the club’s recruitment of former New Zealand centre Gerard Beale after losing fullback Matt Dufty with a shoulder injury and four others to suspension.
St George Illawarra coach Anthony Griffin shifted former NSW Origin representative Jack Bird from centre to fullback after Dufty was forced from the field during last weekend’s 34-18 loss to Melbourne but he has chosen to give Ramsey his chance in the role against Cronulla on Friday night.
With Ramsey preferring to play fullback over wing and the Dragons also having teen star Tyrell Sloan in their squad, the performance of the 21-year-old may have an influence on the long term future of Dufty, who is off contract at the end of the season.
"I think it is a good opportunity and it is good for the club to see what we have got in Cody Ramsey," St George Illawarra captain Ben Hunt said.
"He trained a lot there during the pre-season, and played a bit in trial games and had flashes of excitement, so I think it is a good opportunity to really see what he has got."
Round 11 - Latrell and Smith back, Johnson named in 21
Bird, who will remain at left centre with Max Feagai on the wing, said the Dragons would miss Dufty but team-mates had confidence in Ramsey.
"It is just next man-up mentality," Bird said. "I am pretty sure Cody has always wanted to play fullback and this is his opportunity."
"Duft is going to be a massive loss for us, he is a great player and a great fullback, and he brings something different to our team but it is his [Ramsey’s] opportunity to show what he can do."
Griffin has resisted the temptation to rush Beale into the starting line-up after he flew from Brisbane on Tuesday afternoon to join the Dragons ahead of the local derby at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
Beale was signed for the rest of 2021 on a training contract, eight months after announcing his NRL retirement from a 194-game NRL career that saw him start under Griffin in Brisbane's under 20s.
Beale, who had been playing for Brisbane Tigers in the QRL's Intrust Super Cup, previously played for St George Illawarra in 2013-14 before joining Cronulla, where he played alongside Bird in the club's 2016 premiership-winning team.
“I was here with him at the Dragons and we went to the Sharks together so I am pretty close friends with Bealey," Bird said.
"I learned a lot off him at the Sharks and he was definitely someone I looked up to. I am sure he can do a job for us and I am looking forward to playing with him again."
Dragons finish with a long-range effort to Ramsey
The decision to sign Beale, who was named in the 21-man squad for the Cronulla clash, came after talks with Wests Tigers player Moses Mbye fell over.
Griffin is understood to have met with Mbye last month after he was granted permission by the Tigers to speak with rival clubs for 2022, despite being under contract for one more season.
With hooker/lock Cameron McInnes ruled out for the season with a knee injury and a lack of depth in the centres, Griffin was looking to sign a utility player who can cover most positions in the backline and dummy half.
However, discussions with Mybe are believed to have stalled as the Tigers did not want to release him for this season and the Dragons baulked at his price tag if they were to sign him on a longer-term deal.