Paul McGregor has refused to guarantee Josh Dugan’s place in St George Illawarra’s team for the final round of the regular season after they courageously kept their finals tilt alive without him.
Dugan watched the Dragons’ two-point win over Penrith in cold and windy conditions from the sideline on Sunday, having been dropped for missing the team bus that collected players from the Sutherland Shire for the journey to the foot of the mountains.
What appeared a huge call – to scratch your State of Origin and Australian centre only hours before a sudden-death match – ended up being the making of the Dragons’ finest performance of the year and one that means they can almost certainly clinch a semi-finals berth if they beat Canterbury at ANZ Stadium next Sunday.
Ivan Cleary, at Pepper Stadium to watch son Nathan go around on Sunday, has made plenty of noise about Wests Tigers players having to be metaphorically on the bus. This time it was McGregor and he meant it literally.
“He missed the bus,” the Dragons coach said of Dugan. “Discipline is important to our footy team and on game day especially. He didn’t arrive on time after he spoke about what is needed only recently.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s round 25. I know the conversation with being round 25, season on the line. But if you want to drive standards and discipline, it doesn’t matter what round it is. Our club needed to make a statement, whether it be Josh or any other player.”
Cronulla-bound Dugan drove himself to Penrith after being late for the departure of the team bus and apologised to teammates after their gutsy victory to snap a seven-match Panthers’ winning streak.
Asked whether Dugan would be recalled to the side for their round 26 clash with the Bulldogs, McGregor said he would think about that next week.
“Let’s worry about celebrating tonight, hey,” he said.
The decision to stand down Dugan was made with the support of senior players including captain Gareth Widdop, although McGregor was insistent that it was his call.
???”We’ve got standards in our playing group. I fully support the decision,” Widdop said.
In Dugan’s absence, the ninth-placed Dragons caused an upset that has left four teams in the race for the last three positions in the NRL top eight.
They are two points behind the three teams at the bottom of the eight – Penrith, North Queensland and Manly – but the Panthers and Sea Eagles are drawn against each other at Lottoland in the final round and the Dragons have superior for-and-against to those rivals.
In rapidly deteriorating conditions that convinced several thousand spectators to rush out of Pepper Stadium at half-time, the Dragons jumped to a 12-8 lead at the break after a late reorganisation of their team. Josh McCrone, used to braving the elements from his days with Canberra and about to experience even chillier conditions when he joins Toronto Wolfpack, was promoted to halfback as Kurt Mann shifted to cover Dugan at centre. Both would play above themselves in a brave all-round display.
The sun was still beaming when Dragons prop Paul Vaughan took the ball one off the ruck and proved too much for Nathan Cleary to handle in the 10th minute. By the time fullback Matt Dufty had dived over out wide in the 38th minute to restore their lead – young Penrith five-eighth Tyrone May, having sold a dummy and scored in the meantime – it was raining sideways.
Penrith, with the wind at their back, edged ahead again via a weaving Josh Mansour but with their season on the line, St George Illawarra would not roll over.
Nothing underlined their desperation to live another day like the look on Tariq Sims’ face after he managed a one-on-one strip on Dallin Watene-Zelezniak with 24 minutes left on the clock. Sims had no right to hold off the quickly closing Mansour but pinned his ears back for the 40-metre dash, covering the final few with a leap to the line.
Almost from then on the Dragons were under siege but showed immense commitment to hold on.
If only the same could be said of Dugan.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.