THE stand-off over Josh Dugan’s future goes to the very heart of St George Illawarra’s strategic planning.
I like being part of the spine at club level because I see myself as a leader here at the Dragons
To club officials, he’s viewed as an elite centre.
Their argument is simple.
He is a NSW and Australian representative centre and renowned as a ball-runner, rather than a ball-player.
Dugan has also dealt with several injuries and the belief is moving him wider will help guarantee career longevity.
There’s also a suggestion Dugan limits the Dragons attacking style, simply because his best asset is his running and not his passing.
Coach Paul McGregor and support staff also have a very high opinion of Shellharbour junior Jai Field.
While Field has been thrust into the NRL as a fleet-footed utility, recruitment and pathways manager Ian Millward has stated to Dragons TV his potential as a long-term fullback.
Field himself last week spoke of a desire to wear the No.1 jersey.
Given they also have Matt Dufty on the books, the Dragons have rich reserves of fullback talent.
But Josh Dugan wants to play fullback.
“I like being part of the spine at club level because I see myself as a leader here at the Dragons,” Dugan told media this week.
He’s still viewed by many Dragons supporters, if social media feedback is any guide, as the club’s great hope, while ever he’s positioned there.
This is probably because when the Kurt Mann experiment didn’t work for McGregor last year and they pulled the pin after two rounds, Dugan was the only other realistic option.
And then there’s the money.
Making Dugan a centre means the Dragons can negotiate a deal in the $700,000 ballpark, rather than the $1 million per season tag which he might command on the open market.
Dropping the price tag helps the Dragons ease future salary cap pressure, after paying top dollar for Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt to move to Wollongong next year.
Right now, the Dragons and Dugan are the length of WIN Stadium apart in coming to an agreement and it was publicly evident at the player’s press call on Thursday. Does Dugan still owe St George Illawarra anything, for their role in rebuilding his career after his troubles in Canberra?
Does it even matter, given the NRL’s stage for redemption stories?
The Dragons would rather a deal done sooner rather than later, so they can shape their 2018 squad around Hunt. Dugan’s determination to entertain a future in rugby union, or on the open NRL market, could yet mean the club moves on without him. It could also mean Gareth Widdop stays on at the Dragons, as a partner to Hunt and a long-term captain, after taking the reins from premiership hero Ben Creagh last year.
The whisper is growing louder about McGregor receiving a contract extension, possibly two years, but the Dragons are desperate for some early success to back up the decision, after missing finals last season.
“We clearly think Paul is a coach of the future otherwise we wouldn't have gone this far with him,” chief executive Peter Doust told Fairfax colleague Andrew Webster last week.
Despite their failure against Parramatta, there is great excitement at the club about what the forward pack will deliver.
The pieces of the puzzle just need fit in the backline.