Paul McGregor is ready – and well placed – to back Josh Dugan as a potential centre replacement for NSW in the second State of Origin game.
Newly-appointed St George Illawarra coach McGregor watched ex-NSW fullback Dugan score a hat-trick of tries from centre for the Dragons against Cronulla on Saturday night.
Dugan has played three games at fullback for NSW but lost the position to Jarryd Hayne who has since made it his own.
However, with injured Josh Morris to miss Origin II on June 18, Dugan is now competing with Eels star Will Hopoate and Newcastle’s Beau Scott, who played in the back-row in game one, for the right centre spot as the Blues seek to clinch the series.
McGregor, a former Blues centre, has been part of NSW coach Laurie Daley’s backroom team for the past two years and made the decision to switch Dugan from fullback to centre after taking over the Dragons from the axed Steve Price last month.
“Duges is a footballer and he likes challenges,” McGregor said.
“From making five tackles in a game to making 25 two games in a row and being effective at it is hard to do.
“I am an ex-centre, I know how much energy it uses and he just seemed to find something and scored a couple of tries as well.”
McGregor said Dugan’s aggressive running game makes him a natural centre.
“He’s always going to beat people because that’s what he does,” he said.
“I wasn’t unhappy with how he played against Souths, but he maybe needs to learn the trade a bit more.
“He’ll be better for this run. He’s going to grow and he wants to play there. If a player wants to play in a position, he’s going to play well.
“He’s more than a good player. He’s one of the best in the game.
“He didn’t do himself any harm tonight, if you look at right centres in the game that are NSW-born … but that’s up to Laurie.”
Asked if he’ll tell Daley that Dugan can play centre, McGregor said simply: “I always tell the truth.”
Dugan said he hasn’t spoken to Daley but would desperately love to be involved in game two at ANZ Stadium.
“It would mean the world. It’s something you strive for as a player to be the best at your game and to get picked in the side.
“You want to be on that big stage and play in that rep game.
“I haven’t (spoken to Laurie), but I haven’t hurt my chances.”
On Sunday, Newcastle coach Wayne Bennett, with tongue firmly in cheek, gave Daley some free advice on the prospect of moving Scott from second row to centre and how it could be a mistake.
“I hope they pick him there,” offered Bennett, with his Queensland hat on.
Last time Scott played at centre for NSW in 2010, Queensland secured their first clean-sweep since 1995.
However, Bennett was deadly serious about Daley calling up Knights winger James McManus on the right wing to replace the injured Brett Morris.