Josh Dugan is ready for the boos that await him at GIO Stadium on Saturday. Photo: Robert Peet
State of Origin centre Josh Dugan is ready to use a hostile reception in Canberra on Saturday as motivation to break a long-standing Raiders hoodoo.
With St George Illawarra's finals hopes hanging by a thread, it will be Dugan’s first game in the nation’s capital since his sacking from the club midway through last year. It’s unlikely the Raiders faithful will roll out the welcome mat.
The fact Dugan has resurrected his Origin career in a series-winning NSW team since moving to Wollongong only adds fuel to the Canberra fire.
Dugan said he had been eyeing the match on the calendar.
‘‘I’m definitely looking forward to getting back down there. It’ll be interesting to see what the crowd has to say,’’ Dugan said.
‘‘But I think we’ve both moved on and I think we’re both in better places. I’m just looking forward to playing some good footy.’’
The man he’ll directly oppose on Saturday, Jarrod Croker, stoked the fire this week, saying he hoped his former NYC premiership winning teammate copped it from the Canberra crowd, but admitted it could play into Dugan’s hands.
Former Raider Bronson Harrison agreed, saying Dugan excelled on the big stage.
‘‘I think he might cop a bit but it might be at their own expense. He’s certainly a big game player,’’ Harrison said.
‘‘He can create something from nothing. He’s a big boy, he’s strong and quick and he knows how to bust the line and I’m sure he’ll be up for a big game.’’
Harrison was part of the Canberra leadership group during Dugan’s tumultuous stint at the Raiders but said the man who will return on Saturday barely resembles the problem child who left. He said the 24-year-old, now a senior member of the Dragons leadership group, commands the respect of his teammates.
‘‘There’s a big difference in him and he’s going to grow a lot more because he’s still only very young,’’ Harrison said.
‘‘His maturity level has really increased. He’s always been a pretty intelligent guy even though he’s made a few mistakes but I think he’s learnt from them all. With his presence on the field, he demands plenty of attention.
‘‘He’s a great player and, hopefully, he can keep producing week in, week out for the Dragons and we’ll see the benefits of it.’’
As his side looks to break a famous 11-game hoodoo in Canberra, Harrison said the Raiders felt they had an edge over the Dragons during his four-year stint at the club
‘‘From the [Canberra] side of things, yeah, definitely. They do talk about it and they do love this game so I’m sure this week will be no different,’’ he said.
Dugan may return to his former position of fullback after coach Paul McGregor named a reshuffled line-up for the crunch match on Tuesday. Adam Quinlan is a casualty of the Dragons 16-4 loss to Penrith. Quinlan has played in every match of McGregor’s reign but, in his first major shake-up since ascending to the top job, the coach has shifted Gerard Beale to the No.1 jumper with Peter Mata’utia earning a call-up to replace him at left-centre.
Jack de Belin has been promoted to the front row to make way for Trent Merrin to start at lock, with Mike Cooper shifting to an interchange that includes Tyson Frizell on his return from an ankle injury.