Josh Dugan is under serious consideration to fill the vacant NSW centre spot following his positional switch for St George Illawarra.
Dugan was solid in his first game at centre for the Dragons last Monday, as he steps up his claims for a Blues recall. He was moved away from his regular fullback spot by new St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor in an attempt to spark the Dragons attack. NSW coach Laurie Daley and selection adviser Bob Fulton watched with interest as McGregor – who was until recently a Blues assistant coach – shifted Dugan to centre, allowing them to give serious consideration to Dugan replacing the injured Josh Morris in game two.
Former NSW centre Matt Cooper has thrown his support behind Dugan to claim the right centre position. Cooper has joined the Dragons coaching staff on a casual basis, working twice with Dugan last week and again on Wednesday, as he tries to stiffen the Dragons' defensive edges.
''He is the man for the spot,'’ Cooper said. ''He has played on that stage before and he has got great energy about him.
''He is big, strong and fast. They are the attributes he’ll need to defend [against] the likes of Greg Inglis. It would be tough for him but he’ll handle it.''
Injuries to Brett and Josh Morris have thrown open the Blues centre and wing position. With selectors reluctant to switch game one man of the match Jarryd Hayne from fullback, Dugan, Beau Scott, Will Hopoate, Dylan Walker and Joseph Leilua are possible centre inclusions. Dugan and Hopoate will also be considered for a wing spot alongside Jorge Taufua and Josh Mansour. McGregor is set to continue with the Dugan experiment when the Dragons play Cronulla on Saturday night.
Dugan showed glimpses of his potent best against South Sydney last Monday, maintaining his high involvement, running for 112 metres and making 25 tackles while missing one.
''He had Sam Burgess and Inglis coming at him,'' Cooper said. ''He missed one tackle on Burgess. I’ve missed a few tackles on Burgess. He should get a lot of confidence out of his game.
''I was really impressed by him, especially by his energy and the way he defended. It’s a big ask for a fullback to play centre.
''It probably didn’t look pretty to a lot of people because he didn’t score tries or make breaks, but he did all the hard work, [which] a coach would pick up on.''
Cooper is keen to extend his time on the Dragons coaching staff and will meet with McGregor later this week to work out a formal arrangement. McGregor wants to increase the involvement of former premiership winners in Cooper, Ben Hornby and Dean Young in a bid to lift the vibe of the struggling Dragons.
Cooper has worked exclusively with the Dragons halves and outside back on edge defence.
''Josh likes the centre position and has been really happy at training,'' Cooper said. ''By his body language, I think he really likes playing there. I can see a spot for him there long-term.
''I’m keen to help him out and I think I can help him. He has got all the attacking ability, I don’t need to tell him what to do there. If he has a few questions he’ll ask, but my main role is how he should be as a defender.''