Dugan hungry for Blues recall
Raiders fullback Josh Dugan with fellow Tuggeranong junior Tom Grace. Photo: Colleen Petch
Canberra Raiders fullback Josh Dugan is ready to launch a full-blooded challenge to reclaim his NSW jersey, declaring himself the fittest he has ever been at this stage of the year.
And Blues coach Laurie Daley has urged the 22-year-old to keep developing his long kicking game, a factor he says could help his quest for an Origin recall.
For the first time in years Dugan is niggle-free, and says he has never been in a better position to press main rivals Brett Stewart and Jarryd Hayne for the sky blue No.1 jumper.
Manly Sea Eagles custodian Stewart remains the hot favourite to be chosen for Origin I after his outstanding series last year. Dugan is fully aware he is giving his competition a head start, but he impressed Daley with his enthusiasm at last week's NSW Emerging Squad camp.
He credits the arrival of new Raiders strength and conditioner Nigel Ashley-Jones for helping him overcome a host of frustrating injuries that have stalled his career.
Dugan played the majority of last season with a torn rotator cuff, which required surgery at the end of the season, and also missed a handful of games with ankle syndesmosis. Having missed 20 games over the past three years, news the club's highest-paid player is fit and firing would be music to the ears of Raiders fans.
Reece Robinson deputised brilliantly at fullback for Dugan when he was injured last season, but keeping Dugan on the field is pivotal if Canberra is to build on its sixth place finish last season.
''It's the best I've felt coming out of a pre-season, so I'm looking forward to getting into the trials and then round one,'' Dugan said on Thursday.
''I've always had little niggles which have hampered my training, this year they've cracked down and jumped right on top of it if anything stirs up. We've got a different strength and conditioner who's changed a few things up, and I think it's for the better. It's just the volume. He's always monitoring it, and in the gym as well.''
Dugan played his sole Origin match in 2011 under Ricky Stuart, who handed the NSW post to Daley after last year's series. But the South Tuggeranong junior doesn't believe Stuart's departure will harm his chances of wearing the sky blue.
''It's definitely in my sights and I'm looking forward to staying on the field firstly, and warranting being picked,'' he said.
''I'm not saying I expect to be picked, there's good fullbacks around in Jarryd Hayne and Brett Stewart, I'm definitely looking forward to the competition and challenge. But first and foremost is staying on the field for Canberra.''
Dugan said Daley highlighted things he needs to focus on to get back into the Origin selection frame. The absence of key playmaker Terry Campese for virtually the past two years has forced Dugan to assume more of Canberra's kicking duties.
''He just gave me a few little things on my game I need to be doing week-in, week-out, kick returns, link plays and even my kicking game,'' he said.
''Over the last couple of years I've been building it [kicking] into my game more and more, this year I'll be looking to do the same.''
Daley said Dugan's kicking could be a string to his bow that could help him significantly at the selection table.
''It might be something which gives him a point of difference and help him play for New South Wales and Australia,'' Daley said.
''He's a great talent Duges and if he's fit, he'd be a great asset to us. Brett Stewart did a great job last year and Jarryd Hayne's training the house down. We've got a lot of talent there.''
Raiders coach David Furner said there is scope to alternate winger Robinson and Dugan at fullback, a ploy he adopted at times late last year.
Sportenary family fun and registration day: Junior club regos for the 2013 season at Northbourne Oval, 9am-12pm.