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In a school in the Sydney suburban community of Menai, a 189cm, 105kg NRL player towers over 97 students aged between five and eight as they listen to him recall stories about how he was once bullied.


The towering figure is Josh Dugan, one of the newest faces at the Cronulla Sharks.


On what was meant to be a day off, and despite having a short turnaround from Cronulla's round-one loss to the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville, Dugan has chosen to spend his morning speaking at an anti-bullying presentation.


"Being at the pinnacle of the game now for a while, you do cop a bit of flak, it's now about how I handle it," he said. "Back when I was a kid, I'd react, but I've grown and learned to deal with it."


Dugan himself knows all too well what being on the receiving end is like after having left the St George Illawarra Dragons after five seasons to join their rival club, Cronulla.


"There was the odd, upset fan who was sledging me about being a snake and leaving the Dragons, but at the end of the day you must do what is right for you and your family," Dugan told


"Sometimes things don't pan out how they're supposed to, or how you want them to, but things happen for a reason. I'm loving being here at the Sharks and excited for what the future has in store."


Vaughan puts heat on Dugan


While Dugan generally aims to keep a low profile, this hasn't always been the case. He's opened-up in the past about battling with his own head noise, but at 27, he has finally learned to cope and deal with negativity.


"I normally just block and delete people who say negative stuff. For me, I have one job and that's how I perform on and off the field. The people who are close to me, my friends, family, teammates and staff, they all know who I am and what I'm about.


"Anyone who tries to throw crap on me, I now take it with a grain of salt. Everyone's got their story, and everyone has their backstory, you just have to worry about yourself.


"Respect and respecting other people is one of the biggest things I've learned over the years. To not fire back, to let it go [the comments], and move on."


Thursday night's clash at Southern Cross Group Stadium is one of the most anticipated of the early rounds of the Telstra Premiership.


Cronulla are likely to give Dugan some playing time at fullback, with Valentine Holmes expected to spend stints to the wing spot vacated by Sione Katoa's jaw injury, with Aaron Gray coming into the centres.


Dugan, speaking before news broke of the switch, said he was confident he could form a potent backline combination with Holmes and former NSW fullback Matt Moylan, who has been selected at five-eighth.


Josh Dugan at his physical best.
Josh Dugan at his physical best. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos


"I think it's on everyone to help each other out and make each other better. I never joined the club with any agendas or anything like that, I've gone in there with my experience and knowledge and have tried to help Val out as best as I can," he said.


"Anytime he has a question, or anytime I feel like I can help him out I do and I think that'll continue. Moysa [Moylan] is a great fullback as well and having all three of us there is only going to make us a stronger squad.


"That's good [the competition] to have in any squad, we've got the line-up that's there and we're trying to get that right now.


"I'm really looking forward to [playing the Dragons], it's one I've marked on my calendar early. All my family will be coming up for it. It's my first home game in the new colours and I'm really looking forward to a packed Shark Park."


Looking past his giant stature and ink covered physique, Dugan is human like the rest of us. He's moved to a new suburb, started a new job and has theoretically had to begin again.


"It a was pretty different feeling for me. I'd become so accustomed to being at the Dragons, I was there for four-and-a-half-years. It was something that I was dreading - leaving, but at the same time the Sharks are a great group of guys," he said.


The 2016 premiers want another trophy. On paper, the Sharks have an outstanding team, filled with Australian and State of Origin players.


Still, some Sharks fans wonder whether the inclusion of Dugan and Moylan will actually help the side. "Look, I think [in time] they'll come to know that I haven't done too much wrong over the years; as in wrong place wrong time sort of thing, especially with that Origin stuff last year. There was a big investigation into all of it and there was nothing found to be wrong, it was just a wrong choice," Dugan said.



"If I had my time over, I'd change it. My time now though is spent with my partner, my family and obviously playing PlayStation," he said smiling eluding to his now notorious "Fortnite" post-game try celebration unveiled against the Cowboys in round one.


Round two has not even kicked off but Origin, particularly talk about NSW selection is never far off. Dugan, who has played 12 games for the Blues since 2011, believes new coach Brad Fittler could usher in an exciting new era.


"I want to get to where I was towards the back end of last year, the way I played in the Rugby League World Cup, I'd love to take that form into this year, hold on to it and I definitely want to be in the finals this year - we've got the squad to do it and I'm very confident how we can perform this year."

Acknowledgement of Country

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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