Dugan's NRL return a silver lining: Morris

Josh Dugan has overcome a knee injury and will play for Cronulla against Wests Tigers on Saturday.
Josh Dugan has overcome a knee injury and will play for Cronulla against Wests Tigers on Saturday.

After a hellish week, Cronulla coach John Morris is desperate for any good news the club can get, but he doesn't have to look further than Josh Dugan's return.

Amid the drama of Bronson Xerri's provisional suspension for a positive drug test, Morris is in the fortunate position of calling up former Test and State of Origin star Josh Dugan as a replacement.

The 30-year-old has battled a troublesome knee injury over the pre-season and missed the first two rounds of the competition as a precaution.

Through the downtime of isolation during the coronavirus suspension, Dugan was able to work on his body to return in peak condition to take his place at left centre.

"It's been a rough pre-season for him and the break from the game being suspended was good for Duges in being able to work on his body and get nice and fit," Morris said ahead of Saturday's game against Wests Tigers.

"Who would have thought he would get his comeback under this situation but he comes straight in at left centre."

Brushing aside suggestions he was set for retirement, Morris said Dugan's best position is in the centres as a straight replacement for Xerri.

In 2019, Dugan was shifted between fullback, wing and centres across 23 games.

"I see centre his best position anyway," Morris said.

"We get our best out of him when he's in that position, he played for Australia in that position and he's a very experienced player for us.

"I'm excited for Duges. He's been pushed around a bit in terms of positions.

"I'm looking forward to him stringing some games together and him being a real threat for us."

The Sharks started 2020 with an embarrassment of riches in the backline, but after losing Xerri to suspension and releasing former Test star Josh Morris to the Roosters, depth will be key.

Considering the NRL season will go for the next 18 weeks straight, good roster management and luck with injuries will be essential.

The Sharks now have 25 players from their top 30 available and are already labouring under a salary cap deduction of $350,000 for this season as punishment for previous breaches.

Morris said the club will not be able to compete for a big-name player, but have some wiggle room in the salary cap to recruit.

"Yeah we've taken a hit, we're down to about 25 players out of our top 30, so that's going to be very challenging given we've got 18 back to back games," he said.

"It's just the cards we were dealt at the moment."

Australian Associated Press