It is an image that should excite Cronulla Sharks fans – Josh Dugan wearing the black, white and blue.
Dugan is finally enjoying an off-season break after helping Australia win the rugby league World Cup earlier this month. The 27-year-old signed a four-year, $3million deal with the Sharks in May after deciding to leave Cronulla’s bitter local rivals St George Illawarra.
The recruitment of another representative star has the 2016 premiers looking ominously strong heading into next season. It wasn’t so long ago that captain Paul Gallen was Cronulla’s only representative player. But now, with Dugan and the signing of former NSW representative Matt Moylan from Penrith, Sharks coach Shane Flanagan is excited that his new-look squad have the strength to fight for a second premiership in three years.
“I want to make sure the club’s strong for the next five or 10 years especially while I’m here. If we can recruit players of that quality it’s a massive advantage,” Flanagan said.
“When I first started we had Gal, now we’ve got rep players sprinkled right the way through our team. Andrew [Fifita], Wade [Graham], obviously Gal, Luke Lewis. Then look at our backs now.
“I think we’ve been a little bit forward-dominated over the last couple of years. We’ve had really strong forwards and now we’ve got some real Test players in our backline. It’s a nice mix.”
It has taken Cronulla time to adjust since losing Ben Barba after their 2016 grand final win. Valentine Holmes will start the season wearing the No.1 jersey, with Moylan to replace the Panthers-bound James Maloney at five-eighth. Dugan is likely to slot in for Jack Bird, who has joined Brisbane.
Flanagan is hopeful the new faces will add more to his side’s attack.
“We were down 30 tries this year, 29 to be exact, compared to ‘16. Defensively our seasons were very, very similar [to our premiership season],” he said.
“We let in 68, the year before I think we let in 72. Definitely our standards were pretty good. We came second overall defensively to the Melbourne Storm. But we just need to be able to score tries and having Moylan, Val Holmes, Dugan, throw them in with our current players it just gives us a lot more hope. I think I’ve got the team now that can score those points.”