Dugan in line for NSW centre spot
Posted on 01/24/19 6:23 PM
Josh Dugan’s hat-trick for St George Illawarra against Cronulla on Saturday looks to have earned him the right centre spot for NSW in State of Origin game two in Sydney on June 18.
Blues coach Laurie Daley names his team at ANZ Stadium on Tuesday and will make three changes to the side that won a brutal series opener in Brisbane for the first time in 11 years.
That 12-8 win came at a cost for the Blues who lost Brett and Josh Morris to long-term injuries, forcing Daley into rethinking a new right flank combination that can help deliver a first series win since 2005.
Dugan has only played twice at centre in his career but looked at home in the role against an undermanned Sharks side missing 13 first-choice players, and Daley is a huge admirer of his talents.
New St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor, who was part of Daley’s backroom team before taking over at the Dragons, gave Dugan a ringing endorsement on Saturday having made the decision to switch him from fullback in his first game in charge against Souths on June 2.
“He wants to play there. If a player wants to play in a position he’s going to play well,” said McGregor, who will reprise his role as NSW on-field messenger on game night.
“Duges is more than a good player. He’s one of the best in the game.”
“He’s always going to beat people because that’s what he does.”
Parramatta centre Will Hopoate returned to the NRL this year after completing his two-year Mormon mission but has been in decent form and looks to have edged out Manly’s Jorge Taufua and Newcastle’s James McManus, who played game three last year, for the wing spot.
The 22-year-old has played at centre for the Eels, but scored a try in his one Origin appearance on the wing in game two of 2011 as NSW beat Queensland 18-8.
Daley brought Hopoate into his squad as 19th man for game one and is a known admirer; the fact he’s played and won a grand final with Manly in 2011 also working his favour.
“He’s a very good player,” NSW prop James Tamou told AAP after his North Queensland side lost to Parramatta on Friday.
“He’s got great hands and what I saw of him in the brief time in camp before game one he seems a very grounded guy.
“He’s very young but already has big-game experience. If he’s picked he wouldn’t let anyone down.”
Greg Bird is available again after suspension and will return to the back-row leaving Daley with a conundrum about who to leave out of the forward pack.
Beau Scott, who was also mooted as a centre, and Ryan Hoffman did nothing wrong in the opener. With Daley reluctant to drop either player skipper Paul Gallen is expected to move to the front-row with Tamou dropping to the bench.
That could mean more heartache for Trent Merrin, who was axed for two Origin deciders in 2011 and 2012 by former coach Ricky Stuart, if Daley opts to keep enigmatic Canterbury back-rower Tony Williams.
Possible team: Jarryd Hayne, Will Hopoate, Michael Jennings, Josh Dugan, Daniel Tupou, Josh Reynolds, Trent Hodkinson, Paul Gallen (capt), Robbie Farah, Aaron Woods, Beau Scott, Ryan Hoffman, Greg Bird. Interchange: Luke Lewis, James Tamou, Anthony Watmough, Trent Merrin/Tony Williams.