Paul Gallen believes Josh Dugan has a “bee in his bonnet” regarding his exit from St George Illawarra and will help lead Cronulla towards another premiership charge next season.
Dugan will leave the Dragons for their fierce local rivals after the Sharks announced in May they had signed the 27-year-old on a four-year deal worth a reported $3 million starting in 2018.
The current Australian Test centre and veteran of 12 State of Origin appearances for NSW is likely to slot in at centre for the 2016 premiers to replace Brisbane-bound Jack Bird.
Fairfax Media reported in April that the Dragons’ hierarchy had told Dugan’s management they saw him as a long-term centre. Dragons coach Paul McGregor indicated he would continue to play Dugan at fullback, with Sharks coach Shane Flanagan making the most of the uncertainty to sign Dugan from under St George Illawarra’s nose.
Gallen said the signing of Dugan and the young brigade at the Sharks excited him as he prepares to go around for an 18th NRL season.
“I think Josh Dugan is going to be good for us, I really do,” he said.
“I think he’s had a bit of a bee in his bonnet about this year and what went on and proved that he’s still a top player. Fingers crossed he can come to the club and [do well].
“Obviously we’ve got a really good young group of players coming through who I think can excel into first graders. Guys like Jayden Brailey leading the way there, he’s only going to get better. He’s a terrific player.
“Definitely next year we’re going to start the season with the goal to finish in the top four and fingers crossed we get there.”
Gallen has taken some time to get over the hurt of Cronulla’s controversial elimination finals exit to North Queensland a fortnight ago, describing it as the most painful of his glittering 304-game career.
“It’s been one of the lowest, toughest weeks of my career,” he said.
“You lose Origin you sort of come back and play club football pretty quickly. It’s been the hardest exit from the competition I’ve ever had as a player and that includes grand final qualifiers. It’s just such an empty, numb feeling. A ‘what could have been’ type year. It’s a shame.
“I just thought the way we went out was tough.”
And Gallen indicated that 2018 might not be his last.
“I’m not going to rule it out [playing on]. It’s a really hard one because you get people joking about your age on television and things like that,” he said.
“But at the end of the day as I said to Flano last year, just judge me on what I’m doing on the field. And obviously I’ve got to be performing at that level again and see how the body and mind holds up and see if I’m still enjoying it.”