It was a glimpse into the future that would have had St George Illawarra fans breathing a sigh of relief.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor has had a large problem for next season, trying to fill the Josh Dugan-sized hole at fullback after the representative No.1 decided to leave the club to join fierce local rivals Cronulla.
If Sunday’s evidence is anything to go by, the answer might be found in-house.
Penshurst RSL junior Matt Dufty produced an outstanding NRL debut for the Dragons, scoring a try and setting up two others as St George Illawarra thrashed the high-flying Sea Eagles 52-22.
McGregor said Dugan would return from his hamstring strain against the struggling Knights in Newcastle on Saturday. But with Euan Aitken in doubt after hurting his shoulder scoring his second try against Manly, it’s possible 21-year-old Dufty’s performance was good enough to keep him in the side for good.
“I think it’s a good opportunity. We haven’t replaced Duges [for next season],” McGregor said.
“It’s a good opportunity to give the kids an opportunity when we’ve got most of our players available. With Josh going out there was a position there.
“Duff’s worked really hard at his game in reserve grade and at training to deserve a start. We’ll just play it at the moment week to week. [Against Manly] was a good sign for him and a good sign for us.”
Dufty was a Holden Cup star with the Dragons, scoring 54 tries in 65 games in the under-20s with many coming through his electric speed and elusiveness. He is the third former Dragons under-20s player to graduate to first grade this season.
“That’s a nice pathway for the young blokes,” McGregor said.
“We had a lot of experience [against Manly] so it was a good time for him to make his debut at home on a nice afternoon with a home crowd.
“He showed what he’s got. He’s got ability to burn people with his speed. He’s got a really nice catch and pass. His strength there is a little bit [deceptive] because he’s so quick he can get away from people so he can use his natural strength. I thought that it was a real solid debut, to be honest.”