Matt Dufty out to become St George Illawarra Dragons' fullback in 2017

Dragons fullback Matt Dufty. Picture: John Veage
Dragons fullback Matt Dufty. Picture: John Veage

He was the star of St George Illawarra’s exciting under-20s side last year and now Matt Dufty is determined to take his chance in the top grade.

The 21-year-old is in the mix to play fullback for the Dragons’ season opener against Penrith at UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah on March 4 after a strong start to pre-season.

Josh Dugan has only just returned to training after representing Australia at the Four Nations late last year and, although he is the Dragons’ incumbent fullback, Dugan played in the centres for both NSW and the Kangaroos and started last season wearing the No.3 jersey in club football.

An injury to Kurt Mann following some indifferent early season form saw coach Paul McGregor scrap Mann at fullback and revert to Dugan but Dufty, whose try-scoring ability saw him emerge as an exciting prospect in the Holden Cup, gives McGregor another option.

Dufty, a Penshurst RSL junior, told the Leader he was determined to earn a chance – and make sure he took it.

“It would mean the world to play in round one. But I think it would mean a lot more if I debuted at home at [Kogarah] in front of home fans and people that would love to see me play,” Dufty said.

“[Talk of playing first grade] excites me. But we don’t read too much into it. It’s really up to Mary [McGregor] and Dugan and none of them have really spoken about it.

“I’ve really been the only fullback on the roster at training. Which is good for my experience leading the boys around. But it’s good to have Duges back [and I’m] learning a few tips off him.

“Me and Dugan are different attacking players so we both bring different strengths in our attack. Defensively most fullbacks try and defend the same, positionally and vocally out the back. So I don’t think too much would change there.”

St George Illawarra have lost Drew Hutchison to a season-ending knee injury but strengthened their side with the signings of Paul Vaughan, Nene Macdonald and Cameron McInness.

The Dragons have only featured in the finals once in the last five seasons. The club ran a disappointing 11th last season, only scoring more points than last-placed Newcastle and Parramatta who lost their competition points and for and against up to round nine for salary cap breaches.

Despite last year’s disappointment and the loss of Benji Marshall, Dufty is confident St George Illawarra will be much-improved in 2017.

“I’m really impressed with our roster this year,” he said. 

“We have depth everywhere, in the forwards I could name 10 different guys that could start and do the job just as well as the next guy. In our backs there’s a lot of depth in our centres and wingers.”

Dufty, Tyson Frizell and Jacob Host were at UOW Jubilee Oval on Wednesday as the club announced a new back of jersey sponsor, Kingsgrove business Domus Lighting, a manufacturer and distributor of lighting products.