Dufty first in line for Dragon’s No.1 spot

Matt Dufty has established himself as the man to beat for the St George Illawarra fullback spot despite Gareth Widdop making a strong case he had a future in the No.1 jumper.

Coach Paul McGregor has a plethora of options with Dufty, Kurt Mann and Jai Field all vying to start round one of the 2018 NRL season at the back for the Dragons.

To complicate McGregor’s selection puzzle, skipper Widdop was a standout playing fullback for England at the World Cup.

It’s believed McGregor isn’t considering switching Widdop from five-eighth to fullback and is intent on partnering him with marquee recruit Ben Hunt in the halves.

That leaves Dufty, Mann and Field to fight it out during the pre-season trials.

Hooker Cameron McInnes said he believed Dufty deserved first crack after making a huge impact when he came into first-grade at the back end of the 2017 season.

“That fullback spot is up for grabs but the way Matt Dufty played there … , he deserves his shot but that will be the coach’s decision,” McInnes said.

McInnes, who this week inked a three-year extension which will keep him at the Dragons until the end of 2021, said he was excited at the prospect of forming a long-term spine partnership with Hunt, Widdop and Dufty.

“He’s an exciting player, he’s lightning quick,” McInnes said of Dufty.

“But he’s got very good ball skills, he’s got a very nice cut-out pass.

“He played a lot of touch growing up so he’s very sharp and he can read the game.

“Having that at fullback, being like an extra ball player — all the best teams have that.

“Melbourne have it with Billy Slater, (Brisbane’s) Darius Boyd; they’ve all got that ability.

“If he focuses and does what he did at the end of last year, he’ll improve and I can see him locking that spot down.”

Mann has previously been mentioned as a fullback option by McGregor, however, he conceded he may be the victim of his own versatility.

He was the Dragons’ Mr Fix It last season and played almost every position in the backline in his 21 appearances.

The former Storm outside back said he saw himself as a fullback or five-eighth but due to his ability to play anywhere, he had never been able to lock down a spot.

“It’s good but it’s an Achilles heel as well,” Mann said.

“Being able to play a few different positions, it doesn’t nail me down to one spot.

“What I’d like to be doing is sticking to a position and getting a bit of consistency there.”

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