Josh Dugan is aiming for the NSW fullback jersey for the State of Origin series. Photo: Stuart Walmsley
Canberra fullback Josh Dugan wants to give NSW coach Ricky Stuart a selection headache when he takes on his two biggest contenders for the Blues No 1 jersey in the next fortnight.
Dugan will have his State of Origin credentials put to the ultimate test when he faces Manly's Brett Stewart and Parramatta Eels star Jarryd Hayne in successive weeks, starting with Sunday's trip to Brookvale Oval against the Sea Eagles.
Dugan has plenty of ground to make up on his two main rivals having missed a month with a ruptured shoulder joint.
But an early than expected return in last week's 44-22 loss to the Cronulla Sharks has put the 21-year-old firmly in the frame to be selected for NSW for the State of Origin opener against Queensland at Melbourne's Etihad Stadium on May 23.
"If I play some good footy against Brett Stewart and Jarryd Hayne then it will make the selectors' job a bit tougher," Dugan said.
"They're the frontrunners at the moment.
"For me to have any chance I need to show some good footy against them."
Dugan trained strongly with the Raiders this morning and showed no ill effects of the shoulder injury he sustained in the round three loss to the Sydney Roosters.
He was initially meant to be sidelined until at least round 10, which would have ruled him out of selection for the first game of the Origin series.
Dugan admits the second game on June 13 is a more realistic goal but intends to do everything possible to add to his solitary NSW cap he earned in the opening game of last year's series.
"When I first got injured I was aiming for the second Origin, so if I don't make the first one I don't think I'll be too disappointed," Dugan said.
"The amount of games might not warrant me being picked, but I want to work hard and warrant being picked in the second one if I don't make the first one."
He will play through the rest of the year with weekly painkilling injections, using a modified shoulder pad former Raiders captain Alan Tongue used when he had the same injury last year.
Dugan has about 90 per cent strength in his shoulder and intends to have LARS surgery at the end of the season.
The Raiders desperately need Dugan at his blistering best to help turn around their 3-5 start to the season.
They faced a much more dire scenario when they ventured to Sydney's northern beaches in 2010, winning just five of their first 15 games before embarking on a stirring finals charge.
Dugan is one of 10 survivors from that 24-22 victory, the start of a surge which saw the Raiders win eight of their last nine games.
"It's similar, just a bit earlier," Dugan said.
"It's going to be a lot tougher without Campo (injured captain Terry Campese) but I think the boys are ready to turn it around and get our season back on track."