ST GEORGE Illawarra rake Cameron McInnes is confident his side can overcome the double-blow of being without both Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan for Friday’s local derby clash with Cronulla.
The Dragons will be without the star duo for at least three weeks with Widdop still recovering from a medial ligament injury and Dugan undergoing surgery on a fractured cheekbone suffered in last week’s Test – putting him in doubt for Origin I.
Dugan missed two weeks with a hamstring strain earlier this year with the ever-reliable Jason Nightingale slotting seamlessly into the fullback role in two victories.
As expected, the Kiwi test veteran was named in the No.1 jumper on Tuesday with Kurt Mann to play his second game at five-eighth as part of a new-look spine alongside McInnes and halfback Josh McCrone.
The loss of their two chief attacking aces leaves Dragons fans wondering where the points will come from against the reigning premiers, but McInnes remains confident his side can get the job done without the pair.
“When Jason Nightingale played fullback for those couple of games against Manly and North Queensland he played really well,” McInnes said.
“He’s got so much experience and he runs the ball strong so he’ll do the job there. Obviously Duges is irreplaceable as a player, he’s a great player, but we’re comfortable that Gypsy will do the job.”
McInnes also believes Mann will benefit from a longer preparation for the clash with the Sharks after having just one full session under his belt in the short Anzac Day turnaround leading into their round nine loss to Melbourne.
“I thought Kurt Mann was really good against Melbourne,” McInnes said.
“He brought some spark and he set up a couple of tries there. He had a great performance so if he can take that into the Cronulla game and we all do our job as well, then I’m sure we’ll be fine.
“The more we play together as a spine, you’re obviously going to improve every time, so he’ll be more confident this week I’m sure. From a team standpoint we’ve got plenty of depth in this squad and plenty of great players so we’ll be sweet.”
The Dragons tackled their way to a tight 16-10 win over the Sharks in round two, leaving their arch-rivals bent on revenge when they make the short trip to UOW Jubilee Oval on Friday night.
The hosts will also be coming off consecutive losses for the first time this season and McInnes said his side need to bounce back from their humbling at the hands of the Storm.
“Every game in the NRL’s a big game and obviously, being a local derby, this’ll be no different,” McInnes said.
“It was a close game last time and we’re looking forward to a similar type of game this week. It’s going to be physical and a real grind for the 80 but that’s the way we like to play.
“We obviously want to fix a few things up from the Melbourne game. We didn’t start well at all. We came home strong but a lot of sides can come home strong, it’s about how you start. That’s our focus and we’re confident if we put those things together the win will look after itself.”
In other changes for the Dragons Taane Milne comes onto the wing and young-gun Jai Field was named on the interchange bench.