Rugby League


Former Canberra Raiders Joel Thompson and Josh Dugan return as St George Illawarra Dragons

St George Illawarra Dragons forward Joel Thompson believes Josh Dugan will feed off any boos from Raiders fans, but has put talk of his own permanent return to Canberra on the backburner until the end of the season.

Former Raiders Thompson and Dugan return to Canberra Stadium on Saturday for the first time since defecting to the Dragons.

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Thompson, 25, joined the Dragons on a three-year deal, but there have been discussions about a possible return to the Raiders in 2015.

But a more prominent role under caretaker Dragons coach Paul McGregor and a return to his off-field work in the indigenous community has given Thompson a new lease on life.

"I've told my manager and told both the clubs that I want to concentrate on finishing the year off and then go from there and sit down and talk about the options,'' Thompson said.

''At the end of the day, it's my decision and I need to make it what's best for us.


''My number one thing in life is family and I will always have them as my number one priority.

''People will come up with different opinions and different things, but  ... I make decisions what's best for them, that's just the way I am.''

While Thompson left the Raiders on good terms last year, Dugan was sacked after a series of indiscretions.

Thompson said Dugan had turned his career around at the Dragons, relishing a move to the centres and returning to the NSW State of Origin team.

"He's very different to when he was at Canberra,'' Thompson said.

''He does extras (at training), he wants to learn as a footballer, he's taken on advice, he's doing everything right as a professional.

"[Raiders centre Jarrod Croker] came out and said the fans will give it to him, but I don't think it's such a good idea.

''[Dugan] thrives off that sort of pressure and enjoys it.''

Thompson made 89 first-grade appearances for the Raiders in six seasons before leaving for a bigger deal at the Dragons. Even still, Thompson and his partner both have family in Canberra.

He admitted the move had been harder than expected, initially impacting on his performance.

"I had a fair few things happening at the start of the year, personal things, and it probably wasn't the best start of the year and probably affected my footy,'' Thompson said.

''I've got a good relationship with Mary [McGregor]. He's put me in the left back-row and given me my confidence and told me where I need to improve as a footballer.

''It's that honest truth you get from a coach that is always good.''

Thompson's other passion is raising awareness for the indigenous community.

The Dragons wore a special one-off jersey last weekend as part of the NRL's Close the Gap round. The Raiders will do the same on Saturday, wearing jerseys designed by Indigenous artist Elle Binge and featuring the native Bogong Moth as a tribute to the Ngunnawal people.

Thompson works one day a week with Mission Australia, visiting rehabilitation centres and schools to inspire young indigenous kids, and has completed courses at TAFE covering community services, mental health and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

"Coming from a very small aboriginal community, I know the struggles and the gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous people,'' Thompson said.

''We've still got a lot of issues that need to be fixed, but the programs by the NRL and the clubs are heading in the right direction.

"My ultimate goal after footy is set up my own program and connect with kids.''