Sharks star Josh Dugan immediately gets a little bashful when asked to recount the huge list of charity and community work that has led to him being nominated by his club for the prestigious Ken Stephen Medal.
Sitting down with NRL.com in the Pointsbet Stadium stands after a training session, Dugan – who has also spoken openly about addressing challenges with his mental health this year – seems in a good space.
He addresses his huge workload in attaining specialist qualifications as a counsellor, his anti-bullying campaigning, fundraising for Bear Cottage, work with troubled youth, NRL State of Mind, his improving on-field form after an injury-hit 2018, rumours of rifts with teammates as well as the chance to interact with fans one-on-one via another of his passions – online gaming and streaming.
Community work and fundraising
Dugan goes to lengths to stress none of what he does is for recognition, awards or accolades but, with that out of the way, it is quite the checklist of off-field work.
"I've always said it's not about the accolades or anything, it's something I enjoy doing and something I love doing and will continue to do regardless of the outcomes or awards," Dugan says.
"I found over the years I've enjoyed doing things in the community.
"Over the last 12-18 months I've been heavily involved with the Make Bullying History Foundation [MBHF] with [founder] Brett Murray.
"This year I've stepped into more of an NRL State of Mind ambassador role. I've done a little bit of stuff with Andrew Fifita out at Cobham [Juvenile Detention Centre] and the stuff I did with Bear Cottage this year raising money.
"It's something I get enjoyment out of, seeing kids' faces when I rock up to school and talk about bullying and things like that, it's pretty fulfilling. I get great enjoyment out of it, it's something I love doing. The support I've got over the last couple of days just from being nominated is pretty special as well. It's very humbling to be in that conversation."
The MBHF work is done purely on days off, with Murray letting Dugan know in advance about school visits to see if their schedules marry up. The Bear Cottage fundraiser came about on a whim.
"My missus gave me the idea at the start of the year, I had the mullet and I said to Andrew cos he had one as well, do you want to raise some money for charity and he's like 'yeah sweet'. Then he ended up shaving it!
"But I was like, I'll still go ahead with it. I ended up raising just over $6000 for Bear Cottage which was really good. I couldn't thank everyone that donated enough.
"The stuff I've done here and there with NRL State of Mind and my own stuff, speaking up about my mental health, It Ain't Weak to Speak, just using my platform that I've got with social media and that sort of thing for the right reasons, promoting mental health and things like that, it's been a good 12 months for me."
Behind the scenes Dugan has put a mountain of work into attaining formal counselling qualifications.
"When I was at the Dragons I did my Mental Health First Aid course, I did my Cert III and IV in Community and Social Work," he says.
"I got halfway or three quarters of the way through the diploma but at the time I was playing Origin and got pretty busy through the middle of the year and ended up missing the last bit of it."
The structure had changed when Dugan returned this year but he quickly got through the required revision and is now working towards finishing off his final counselling subjects.
"I'm enjoying it. Missing a few weeks here and there just because of travel and short weeks but I'm trying to make it work," he says.
"It will probably take me about 18 months to finish, I'm about a third of the way through it. There's a teacher that comes out here on our days off, we spend three or four hours with her then a fair bit of homework as well but it's not too bad."
Dugan says the area is a serious option post-football.
"Definitely. When I was in rehab last year I sat down with my psychiatrist, we had a one-on-one psychiatrist, every patient that was there, and you had to speak up about what you wanted to do post career and your goals moving forward and one of them was to really dive into finishing my courses and my studies and taking that next step," he says.
Gaming, streaming and interacting with fans
One of Dugan's main outlets away from footy and the community work is to jump on the PlayStation. Via his Twitter feed he invites fans to come and join a session on popular streaming platform Twitch when he dives into games like NBA 2K, Apex Legends (a Fortnite-style battle royale game) and Call of Duty.
He relishes the chance to let the guard down and be a bit more real.
"Most of it's footy fans coming and having a chat with me, being able to speak one-on-one with me. It's pretty good," Dugan smiles.
"Everyone comes in and has a yarn. You get the odd gamer that comes in and just watches for the game. I just found it another way of interacting with people.
"It's somewhere I can be me and speak normally. It's good, I don't have to put on a mask, I can have a muck around and a laugh and have a chat too."
Dugan got involved with Australian eSports group Mindfreak via a friend and while there is no formal agreement or contract he is currently streaming through them.
"They've said 'we'll put you on the team and you can be affiliated with us and go from there'," Dugan says.
"Now there's a fair few of their eSports fans there as well but it's also footy fans which is good too. It's just a diverse area, you get people from all walks of life.
"It's good for me to because it's the way that I wind down. We're out here working hard all day every day and I'll get home and spend a couple of hours on the PlayStation to wind down and relax.
"I've been doing that since I can remember as a kid, I've always been a gamer. If the weather's bad I'm inside on the PlayStation, if it's good I'm outside having a fish."
Turning a corner on-field and staying injury free
Like the rest of the Sharks squad, Dugan is relieved a run of close losses has been snapped with two straight wins. Along with skipper Paul Gallen, it was Dugan's monster 200-metre game against the Cowboys that turned the tide two weeks ago, before piling 39 points on Souths in round 20.
"I feel as a team we've been on the verge for probably two months now, just waiting to tip over the edge and get that win. We did it gritty and hard against the Cowboys but I feel like we really turned up on the weekend against Souths," he says.
"As a whole I think we performed pretty well as a team and I'm pretty happy with where I'm at too, just starting to get that consistency. I'm enjoying it. Seeing that energy and enthusiasm around the squad, it's special."
Dugan knows there is a view of him as injury prone but he has missed just two games in 2019 (rounds seven and 18) after sitting out the middle third of 2018 with lower-leg injuries.
Dugan scores off a Graham peach
"I'm feeling pretty good, maintaining the body all year, this time of year, there wouldn't be a player running out without niggles," he says.
"I've just been real diligent with my recovery and extra physio, extra massages, things like that.
"Last year was a bit of a build-up from not having full pre-seasons for two of three years. I had the Four Nations then the World Cup, then from the World Cup into my first year here last year, I think it all just caught up on me and I broke down a little bit.
"I had a shoulder reco and a full pre-season again and I felt good going into the season. I picked up a few niggles here and there as you do, as a rugby league player playing a contact sport. It's just about maintenance and that's what I've been good at this year."
Dugan laughs when prompted about the huge punishment his high-octane style subjects him to on a weekly basis.
"It's sort of live and die by the sword," he says.
"I only know one way and that's as hard as I can. I'm going to pick up bumps and bruises with that sort of style, it's just going to be about maintenance after that which I feel like I've been pretty good at this year."
Unhappy on the wing?
Gallen revealed on Channel Nine's 100% Footy recently there was "an element of truth" to reports some players were unhappy about which position they were being asked to play, with eyes immediately turning to Dugan.
He agrees that as a competitive player you want to play in the position you feel you're best suited but completely rejected surrounding reports that the issue had caused a rift within the team. Both he and fellow representative centre Josh Morris have been asked to play wing at times following the emergence of Bronson Xerri.
"I think myself and JMoz have been pretty good about it this year, accepting it," he says.
"You can be upset about it for five minutes or so which we probably were at times but we're competitive people as footballers, you want to be in your position and you want to play where you feel is best for the team but at the end of the day it is a team sport.
Dugan and Johnson combine
"All that talk about a rift in the camp, it was all a load of crap. I think it was a bit of a media beat-up by a certain few. Me and Moz have never had a drama with anyone in the squad. It was pretty laughable to be honest from the inside.
"We stuck together as a squad the whole time throughout those five weeks when we lost by four or less. We knew we were on that edge where if we could just get that one other play, that 50-50 call go our way, we'd be in the right direction.
"I think we got that against the Cowboys then again on the weekend when we just took it to Souths and from the first whistle we were on. We've got to build into that on Friday against Penrith. They're going to be hungry for a win after losing last week. Every week is an important match-up for us going into finals."
And after a strong performance at centre – his first start there in seven weeks and the team's best performance since that round 13 win over the Eels – Dugan will shift back to fullback again with Matt Moylan sidelined with concussion.
"It's one of those things, I'm old enough and experienced enough now to be able to slide into different positions and put my best foot forward and I feel like at the moment I've got a bit of confidence with how I'm going on the field and with how the boys around me are helping me as well," he says.
"I feel like wherever I'm put at the moment I can do the job."