Dugan heads star cast ready for Souths battle

RUGBY LEAGUE

It's the ace up his sleeve, but Steve Price will have not only Josh Dugan but a near full-strength NRL squad to choose from for the Dragons’ clash with Souths on Saturday night.

Confirming St George Illawarra’s No 1 gun will make his first appearance of the season at the SCG, Price will also be buoyed by other news on the injury front.

Halfback Michael Witt made his return via the NSW Cup on Saturday in a bid to pressure incumbent No 7 Sam Williams.

And Dan Hunt, withheld from the Dragons’ loss to the Broncos with a minor knee injury, is also expected to be available for selection in the Heritage Round clash.

If Tyson Frizell can overcome the ankle injury which forced him to hobble out of WIN Stadium in a moon boot, the Dragons will have emptied the casualty ward for a daunting set of fixtures over the next month.

‘‘We took a precaution and put [Frizell] in a boot and we will have a better look at him over the coming days once things settle down,’’ Dragons high performance director Andrew Gray said.

Price even took the liberty of asking Jack de Belin to make a 40-minute cameo for the Illawarra Cutters at the weekend, less than 24 hours after he featured for the Dragons against Brisbane.

One big relief for the coach would have been the return of Jack Stockwell, who was rushed straight back into the starting side after nursing a hamstring injury since the Charity Shield.

‘‘I was a bit surprised [to be starting], but it was a nice surprise,’’ Stockwell said.

‘‘I just want to be in that side and playing footy each week. That’s my goal.

‘‘The hamstring is better than ever now.’’

The injury paled into insignificance for Stockwell, as the enormity sunk in of the devastating neck injury that his good mate Alex McKinnon sustained while playing for Newcastle last week.

While the Hunter community rallied around the former Dragon in the Knights’ clash against Cronulla on Sunday, Stockwell reached out to McKinnon’s family at his bedside over the past week.

‘‘He’s one of the toughest blokes I know and I pretty much grew up with him and he’s one of my best mates,’’ said Stockwell, who attended St Gregory’s College with McKinnon.

‘‘It’s devastating. I’ve been in touch with his family and his girlfriend. I just want to be there for him and his family and all the Dragons are there for him.’’

On Sunday night the Knights confirmed McKinnon had his assisted ventilation removed and can now communicate with family.

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