Dragon Josh Dugan best at centre: Paul McGregor

Josh Dugan playing right centre for NSW during the recent Origin series. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN
Josh Dugan playing right centre for NSW during the recent Origin series. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor believes Josh Dugan is the best right centre in the game after making a successful switch from fullback that could earn him an Australian Test jersey.

Dugan, who played two matches at centre before being picked for NSW in Origin II, performed so well in the role that he received the Blues players' player award in the series finale two weeks ago.

As Justin Hodges nears the end of his career, there is an opportunity for Dugan to force his way into Test contention as the Kangaroos right-centre options are so limited that Australian coach Tim Sheens played Parramatta and NSW fullback Jarryd Hayne there in last year's World Cup.

In contrast, Sheens has Hayne, Greg Inglis and Darius Boyd as fullback options should Billy Slater be unavailable.

Despite speculation that McGregor planned to return Dugan to the No 1 jersey when centre Dylan Farrell recovered from a pectoral muscle tear, the 24-year-old appears settled where he is and will line up opposite Manly's Steve Matai on Monday at Jubilee Oval, in a match that will feature the return of Origin I hero Brett Morris from a shoulder injury for the Dragons.

Even when Farrell is fully fit, Dugan is unlikely to be moved and McGregor said he had all the makings of a top centre.

"Duges is a 102kg player, he carries the ball better than most in any position, he is physical, he has got a bit of grub about him in that he doesn't mind getting in there and getting dirty, which you need as a centre, and he likes to compete," McGregor said.

"If you look at all the centres who have ever been good in the history of the game, they all have those attributes."

McGregor, who is expected to be appointed to the St George Illawarra coaching job on a full-time basis if Wayne Bennett returns to Brisbane, first hit on the idea of switching Dugan from fullback to the centres before taking over the reins from close friend Steve Price six weeks ago.

The 46-year-old, who was a member of the NSW coaching staff that successfully plotted an end to Queensland's eight-year domination of Origin, suggested to Blues mentor Laurie Daley that Dugan could play right centre or wing in the series opener.

He was overlooked for that game but received his third Origin cap in Game II at right centre after Josh and Brett Morris were ruled out with injury.

"I just thought the best fit for the football team and to get our best players on the park was to make that change," McGregor said.

"Me and Laurie spoke way before the team [for Origin I] was picked and they were looking at whether to play Jarryd Hayne at fullback or Duges at fullback.

"There was an opportunity for him to play right wing and I said at the time that I think Duges would make an outstanding centre and Laurie agreed.

"As soon as I got this role [at the Dragons] I thought I am going to make that change because what was happening at the time wasn't working.

"Duges jumped at the challenge and he was rewarded for that with a sky blue jersey and a series win, and some would say he is probably the in-form right centre of the competition right now."

With the livewire Adam Quinlan doing a good job at fullback and Gerard Beale holding down the left centre spot, McGregor has created an environment in which Farrell has to force his way back into the team; he has played the last two weekends for Illawarra Cutters in the NSW Cup.

"At the moment Josh is doing a very good job at right centre, he came away with the players' player in Origin, which is the hardest arena to play in, so he is growing in that area," McGregor said.

"That is not to say Dylan won't make the side somewhere.

"At the moment Dylan has got to do the right and play very well in reserve grade and he knows that, we have spoken about that."

Meanwhile, Morris was cleared to play eight weeks after ignoring the pain of a fractured and dislocated shoulder to make a try-saving tackle on Boyd in the dying minutes of NSW's 12-8 win in Origin I.


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