Former Dragons centre Matt Cooper says Josh Dugan should remain at centre. Photo: Jane Dyson
St George Illawarra legend Matt Cooper has implored the Dragons to persevere with Josh Dugan at centre, admitting he was shocked at how quickly he adapted to the position.
Despite his success there calls are growing louder for Dugan to return to fullback, where he can increase his involvement when he plays in Canberra on Saturday for the first time since his sacking by the Raiders.
He may be public enemy number one in the capital, but Cooper has seen enough promising signs from Dugan to feel his days in the no.1 jersey are over.
Josh Dugan has blossomed out of position at centre.
One of the best defensive right centres the modern game has seen, Cooper has mentored Dugan through his role as Dragons defence coach.
Dugan has also had the luxury of learning from interim head coach Paul McGregor, himself a former great Dragons centre.
He was outstanding for NSW at centre this year, helping the Blues break its Origin drought, and Cooper wants him to stay there.
The Dragons named Dugan at centre on Tuesday, with Gerard Beale moving to fullback to replace the rested Adam Quinlan.
"I'd like him to stay at centre, he's got a bit of work to do but I think he's done a great job,'' Cooper said.
"He's surprise me, I thought it would take him a bit longer to pick it up.
"In the Origin series he was outstanding, his defence was the highlight for me.
"I've given him as much advice as I can, he wants to listen and learn and that's making my job easier.
"I'm helping him defensively on where to be and the position you need to be in, and the choices you have to make as a centre.
"The big changes are the decisions in defence and more tackling, but he's got the frame to be a centre.''
Dugan is bracing for a hostile reception from Green Machine fans, but Cooper believes he can have the last laugh by exploiting Canberra's flimsy left edge defence.
It has been bolstered however by the return last week of winger Edrick Lee, and Dugan's centre battle with in-form Raider Jarrod Croker promises to be a highlight.
"I think he'll be excited to be playing back in Canberra, he played some great footy for the Raiders,'' he said.
"He's got a tough game, he's up against Croker which will be a great battle.''
Cooper said staying at centre would also aid Dugan's future Origin hopes given Parramatta star Jarryd Hayne's brilliance at fullback.
"Jarryd Hayne is the best player in the world in my eyes, you can't move him from fullback,'' Cooper said.
"We were a bit light on in centre this year, and Josh took his chance with both hands.''
Cooper achieved virtually everything in the game, but failed to win in Canberra in 14 seasons with the Dragons.
He rejected claims the Raiders have a mental stranglehold over them, and is confident they can break the hoodoo by winning in Canberra for the first time since 2000.
The Raiders have also won the past nine meetings at any venue.
"I played first grade for 14 years and never won a game in Canberra, that's how tough it is for us down here,'' Cooper said.
"I don't know what it is, the last few years we've been so close.
"It's not a mental barrier for us, I think it's more the Raiders players have got that confidence about themselves when they play the Dragons.
"It's always in the media in the lead-up, that's the way it is. The players have to be professional and just try and block it out.''