Dugan a certain starter for Dragons crucial NRL clash

BIG IN: Josh Dugan. Picture: Sylvia Liber

BIG IN: Josh Dugan. Picture: Sylvia Liber

ST GEORGE Illawarra centre Josh Dugan looks a certain starter for Saturday’s clash with Gold Coast after overcoming an ankle injury in time for the must-win showdown.

Dugan limped from the field in the first half of the Dragons last-gasp defeat at the hands of the Rabbitohs last week with initial fears he’d suffered potentially season-ending syndesmosis injury.

Post-match scans cleared him of serious injury but he still appeared at long odds to make it back in time for the clash on which his side’s finals hopes hinge.

The 27-year-old Test and Origin rep took part in Friday’s captain’s run and, barring any late hiccups, will take his place in the Dragons line-up according to coach Paul McGregor.

“He got through Wednesday without any complications and he’s going to do some contact today [Friday] so it looks like he’ll be right to play,” McGregor said.

“The medical staff feel he’s right to play and once it gets past that, as a coach, you pick your best players and he’s certainly one of them.

“He’s played at the elite level and he’s the current Australian [Test] right centre so he’s very important to our team.”

“It is [a boost]. We know we’ve got to win three of our last four to make finals footy so it’s an important game for us and Josh is a big part of that.”

Dugan’s inclusion comes as the Dragons look to arrest a dramatic slide that saw them slip outside the top eight for the first time this year on the back of the Rabbitohs loss.

It sets up a make or break month for the finals hopes but McGregor is adamant that’s enough time to recapture the form that saw his side leading the competition earlier this season.

“[Top] form’s a week away,” McGregor said.

“Three weeks ago we beat a side [Manly] that was running fourth by 50. The week before that we got beaten in extra time [by Canberra].

“If you look at the last two weeks we’ve got ourselves in a good position to win and we haven’t. We as coaches and our players are very disappointed with that.

“I’m not going to look for excuses. We’ve got a good enough footy team here to have won the past two games and we didn’t.

“It goes back to being mentally resilient, concentrating for the whole 80 minutes, not dropping your guard and really pinning your ears back and going for it a little bit.

“We’ve got to be mentally more resilient at important times, especially when the pressure’s applied. That’s where we can improve on our last two losses.”

McGregor also dismissed the suggestion that the pressure of playing for their finals future is weighing on his side.

“I don’t think it should, it should be exciting,” he said.

“This time of year’s really exciting, you play your best footy, you lead into the finals with some really good combinations going into it. It’s the way to do it, it’s the way to play footy.

“We play elite level sport and to play elite level sport is a privilege and that comes with pressure. You’ve got to accept that and respond to it and we’ve got a chance to do that this week against the Titans.

“We worked so hard and got into a really good position on the ladder. We’ve got four weeks left so it’s about going back to having that real resilience, to be really excited about what you do and go out and enjoy it and do it the best you can.”