Test call-up completes Dugan redemption

Just more than two years after being sacked by Canberra and seeing a contract offer from Brisbane withdrawn, Josh Dugan has been named an Australia rugby league Test representative.

In a true rugby league redemption tale, the St George Illawarra fullback will start on the wing for the Kangaroos against New Zealand in Brisbane on Friday.

The story was so different in March 2013 when Dugan was shown the door by the Raiders for the latest in a long line of alcohol-fuelled incidents.

After spending time working as a painter and decorator he agreed terms with the Broncos only for the contract to be ripped up after he became involved in a social media spat with a fan.

A move to the Dragons came with several clauses in his contract regarding his behaviour and the 24-year-old has more than proved himself in the Red-V, helping the side to the top of the ladder with a series of strong displays.

Test coach Tim Sheens said he had no concerns picking Dugan on the wing, a position he has never played at NRL level, and his selection was fully merited.

“He won’t be the first fullback to play for Australia,” Sheens said.

“He’s been picked on form, when you look at St George’s form and his form it’s warranted. He’s probably as good a fullback as anyone at the moment.

“Laurie (Daley) experimented with him at centre last year and he did well. Good footballers can play in more than one position. He beats more people on kick return than anyone else in the game.”

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman John Grant said Dugan’s turnaround is a great advert for the game.

“Without being specific about him, but the game sets some real boundaries that everyone understands and gives them a chance to transgress.

“If they don’t then they are welcome to play rugby league and we welcome them back in the family.

“He’s an example … it’s great to have Josh in the side. To see people waste their talent is demoralising so it’s great to see people with great talent capitalising on it.”

Sheens named four debutants in total with South Sydney winger Alex Johnston and Melbourne centre Will Chambers in the starting side while prop Trent Merrin is on the interchange bench.

Fullback Billy Slater has been selected subject to a medical, having been out of NRL action for three weeks as he recovers from a shoulder injury.

Should Slater fail to prove his fitness on Tuesday, Greg Inglis will move to fullback and Michael Jennings, who was named as 19th man in an extended squad, will come in to the centres.

“I spoke to him (Slater) today and there will be a medical followed by a physical test out on the field,” Sheens said.

“He’s pretty confident he will play, we will do a thorough test on him as we don’t want to risk him.

Johnston’s inclusion caps a huge rise to the top for the 20-year-old who won a premiership with the Rabbitohs in his rookie season last year.

“He’s easily coached, talented with a thirst for knowledge, what more do you want?,” Sheens said.

“He’s versatile, he’s played fullback. Michael Maguire as a coach has an opinion of a fullback for him down the line. He is a talented kid.”

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