Frustrated Dragons coach Paul McGregor has vowed to play Josh Dugan at fullback next year should both remain at the club as the representative No.1’s stand-off with club management over his best position hijacked a media call to promote the Anzac Day blockbuster.
In a tense press conference to promote the traditional clash against arch rivals the Roosters, a headstrong McGregor pledged not to strip Dugan of his custodian role despite Dragons hierarchy telling his management they see him as a long term centre.
It has led to a significant gulf between Dugan, who is also being courted by overseas rugby clubs, and Dragons officials as the issue threatens to take the gloss off St George Illawarra’s stunning 6-1 start to the season.
And McGregor, who became visibly frustrated when probed about the mixed messages emanating from him and the club over Dugan, wouldn’t back down from his belief his star should – for now – be in the No.1.
‘‘The club know my situation at the moment,’’ McGregor said. ‘‘And my situation is that if I’m coaching in 2018 and Josh Dugan’s at the club he’ll be fullback. But it’s 2017, a lot can change in six months.
‘‘Josh Dugan is playing fullback for the club, he’s wearing the No.1. So if he’s the right man to play fullback, that’s where he will be played. Regardless of the money he’s on next year the coach will decide where Josh plays whether it be fullback or centre.’’ The uncertain futures of Dugan and Dragons skipper Gareth Widdop threaten to hog headlines despite St George Illawarra’s revival under McGregor in 2017.
McGregor has distanced himself from negotiations between the club and players – claiming that’s the remit of recruitment chief Ian Millward – with the coach conceding he had ‘‘zero (input) when it comes to money’’.
The irony is that when McGregor took over from axed clipboard carrier Steve Price in 2014, the rookie head coach said he would mull shifting Dugan to the centres where he has carved a name for himself at representative level.
But his about-turn is now at odds with the club, who said they tabled a more than acceptable multi-year offer for Dugan comparable with that of the best centre in the game.
Asked if he thought Dugan had the right to ask for money in line with that of a fullback given his own views, McGregor said: ‘‘That’s up to his management to work out with the club management what he does get. Not Paul McGregor because Paul McGregor is coaching the 17 right now.
‘‘The value of a player is what a club wants to play a player and what the management wants for the player and it’s up to the coach to decide what position he plays when he’s at the club. That’s how it works.
‘‘So let Josh’s management and the club management work out what he’s worth and I’ll work out where he’s going to play.
‘‘What if another coach is there [in 2018]? Will he decide where he plays? At the moment Josh Dugan is the best fullback at the club.’’ Dugan, 26, is tipped to retain his Kangaroos jersey at right centre in Mal Meninga’s side for the Anzac Test against New Zealand in Canberra next month.
He has missed the Dragons’ wins over Manly and North Queensland in the past fortnight, but is poised to return against the Roosters which will help shore up his Kangaroos jumper.
‘‘He trained well last week,’’ McGregor said. ‘‘It was a grade two [hamstring injury].
‘‘He needed that extra time. With the nine-day turnaround it wasn’t worth pushing him out in front of the Cowboys when Jase [Nightingale] has done such a great job and Kurt Mann was healthy.
‘‘He probably ran at about 90 per cent on Saturday just before the game against the Cowboys. Training today he was outstanding.’’