By Margie McDonald, Senior Reporter, NRL.com
Cronulla Sharks recruit Josh Dugan is entering the point of his career when his best playing days are still ahead of him, according to new club coach Shane Flanagan.
A regular in the NSW and Australian teams over the past two years, Dugan also seems to be ironing out the tag of being an injury-prone player.
He missed only four games for the St George Illawarra Dragons last season, compared with six in 2016. He had several stints on the sidelines during his formative years at Canberra where he made 70 NRL appearances in four seasons.
Now the 27-year-old is off to his third NRL club on a four-year deal at the Sharks. And he will arrive after a successful World Cup campaign with the Kangaroos scoring two tries and setting up five others in the five Tests he played at centre.
He also ran the third-most metres, with 778, after Valentine Holmes (1,055) and David Klemmer (786). Dugan has clearly benefitted greatly from having Australian coach Mal Meninga – one of the game's all-time great centres – in his ear.
"I think Duges is coming into his best football, to be honest," Flanagan told NRL.com.
"He's played the last two years for Australia in that position. He's played both sides of the field at centre. We know he can play fullback so he comes here knowing he's still got to compete for a spot. He's excited about it and so are we."
Flanagan signed Dugan after the club had lost fellow Origin player Jack Bird to a lucrative offer from the Brisbane Broncos.
"I was disappointed to lose Jack but that's football," Flanagan said. "But Duges has come in and he's the Australian centre so that's not a bad swap."
There is still the lingering cloud of being able to pick up an injury quicker than a cold at times. The sheet for 2017 alone showed a fractured cheekbone in May, hamstring troubles in July, and a dodgy ankle in August.
Former NSW Origin and Dragons physical performance manager Andrew Gray joined the Sharks in late 2014, and Flanagan thinks he's one of the club's trump cards.
"With our high-performance unit headed by Andrew we've shown over the last three to four years that we don't use a lot of players," he said. "That's because of the way they train. I think that will help Duges.
"Our program is very personalised and that will get Duges to be the fittest and strongest he possibly can be."
*This article first appeared on NRL.com