Cooper's guile has Dugan on fast track at centre

Josh Dugan has made the centre position his own since switching from fullback, surprising many. Picture: ADAM McLEAN
Josh Dugan has made the centre position his own since switching from fullback, surprising many. Picture: ADAM McLEAN


One of the best defensive centres in the modern game, former Dragons and NSW star Matt Cooper is the behind-the-scenes mentor to ensure Josh Dugan is no longer a target in the NRL.

Dugan has established himself as one of the game's premier centres with standout performances at club and Origin level, notching six tries in seven games since switching from fullback.

While the move has proven fruitful in attack, Dugan is aware that opposing teams are keen to turn the Dragons trump card into the team's Achilles heel by increasing his defensive workload.

Dugan has averaged above 20 tackles a game since making 25 tackles on debut in the centres against Souths in round 12, as teams direct plenty of traffic at he and edge partner Benji Marshall. It's seen a dramatic jump in his stats in the "tackles" column but Dugan said he is unfazed by the weekly onslaught.

"I think that would definitely be a ploy because I feel I do have a pretty strong running game," Dugan said.

"The plan would be to gas me out a bit so I can't be as important to the team with my running game but we don't worry about it too much.

"We just turn up to what's coming at us and do what we need to do."

With the treatment likely to continue for the rest of the season, Dugan said he will continue to seek the counsel of Dragons defensive coach Matt Cooper - who has helped him make the transition.

"It is a new position for me - not so much now I've played nearly two months there - but when I first got in there he was tipping me up on the little things - stuff like staying square and making sure I don't shoot out of the line," Dugan said.

"Now it's more about re-enforcing the good things we're doing and tipping us up if we do slip up."

Cooper's return to the club was one of interim coach Paul McGregor's first orders of business, and the renowned defensive technician is adamant the former Origin fullback is up to the challenge.

"He'll be one of the best centres in the game. I think it's definitely his position," Cooper said.

"He's done a great job, after playing fullback his whole career, to step into the centre position.

"He's defending really well, which has really surprised me for someone who hadn't played centre before," he said.

"It's hard position to play, particularly because he's defending three-in [from the sideline] and not where a centre naturally defends. He's making 20-25 tackles a game so it's a pretty hard task.

"He's been playing fullback where he probably made five a game so he's not used to those efforts but he's handled it really well. And he's got a lot of improvement to go, which is scary because he's playing such good footy already."


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