Kogarah’s Jubilee Oval holds some of the fondest memories of Matt Dufty’s young career. Memories that helped forge his love of rugby league.
The Penshurst RSL junior returns to the ground where he won a pair of junior grand finals on Saturday as a first grader. But the stakes will be much higher when St George Illawarra host the Gold Coast at Kogarah. It is a game the Dragons can’t afford to lose.
St George Illawarra slipped out of the top eight for the first time this season on Sunday when Penrith overcame the Wests Tigers, an almost unthinkable scenario midway through the season when the Dragons led the competition. St George Illawarra must now fight to save their campaign against the struggling Titans, who were thrashed 54-0 by Brisbane on Saturday night.
But it will also be a special afternoon for Dufty, who still lives at Peakhurst where he grew up. The 21-year-old will make his fourth NRL appearance at the ground he dreamed of playing on.
“It’s one of the best places to play. I love playing [at Kogarah],” he told the Leader.
“I won under nines and 10s grand finals for Penshurst there. I played all my Harold Matthews (under-16s) and SG Ball (under-18s) there.
“Hopefully Mary picks me. That’d be a dream come true. I know a lot of people from local clubs and family will come and support me. It would mean the world to me to play at Kogarah.”
It has been a worrying couple of weeks for the Dragons since Dufty made his debut in a 30-point romp over Manly. Losses to struggling Newcastle and South Sydney have seen St George Illawarra slide out of the finals places and into a battle with Penrith and Canberra just to make it to September.
With Josh Dugan only playing 23 minutes of the loss to Souths before being forced off with an ankle injury, it’s even more likely St George Illawarra will turn to Dufty to spark their attack. With Dugan off to fierce local rivals Cronulla next season, Dufty has the chance to show Paul McGregor why he should get first crack at the No.1 jersey in 2018. But he’s not calling it an audition.
“It’s definitely my goal for next year, to play there,” he said.
“Ultimately it’ll be up to Mary and the coaching staff what they want to do but it’s definitely my goal to lock it down. I’ll have to get stuck into pre-season. No one has said anything like [it being an audition]. Mary just tells me to go out and enjoy myself and play with no pressure, go out play my own game and that’s really helped.
“I wasn’t sure how I’d adapt to it. I’ve definitely just gone out to there and tried to play my own style of footy and fit in with the boys which I think I have pretty well.
“It’s still pretty special running out there with the boys and putting on the red V in first grade. It’s definitely everything I thought it would be, playing in front of 15,000 people instead of a couple of hundred. It was a dream growing up and for it to finally happen there’s no words to describe what it means to me. It’s special.”