Jason Nightingale believes former Dragon Josh Dugan will be nervous when St George Illawarra arrive in the shire for their derby clash with Cronulla on Thursday night.
Dugan left the Dragons for their fierce local rivals at the end of last season after the Sharks announced in May they had signed the 27-year-old on a four-year deal worth a reported $3 million.
The Australian Test centre and veteran of 12 State of Origin appearances for NSW has slotted 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.
Nightingale was a teammate of Dugan for five seasons in the red v after Dugan had arrived from Canberra. Nightingale said Dugan would be feeling the pressure ahead of his first derby wearing the black, white and blue.
“He’ll be nervous but I think excited to get out there and show us what he’s done in the off-season,” Nightingale said.
“I only watched a little bit of their game but wherever he plays you know he’s going to give his all back against his old club. I remember when we played Canberra a couple of times he always turned up and got very excited about those games.
“I’m sure we’ll focus a little bit more [on him]. Not so much myself because he’ll be on the opposite edge. Obviously he’s a great player and looking forward to going up against him again. I’m sure there’ll be a bit of banter later in the week.”
Thursday night’s clash will be somewhat of a home game for Nightingale, a resident of the shire. He will know as well as anyone how much Cronulla will want to bounce back from their round one defeat to North Queensland on Friday night.
St George Illawarra will take plenty of confidence into the clash given their explosive start to the campaign, blowing away a brittle Brisbane at Kogarah to start life with new star No.7 Ben Hunt at the helm.
“I can’t wait. It’ll be great. I’ll have to stay inside for a couple of days leading up to it,” Nightingale said.
“I can pretty much walk to the game. [But] I won’t be doing that because there’ll be too much heckling. But it’s great to play local derbies and especially for the 10 or 11 of us that live up close to Shark Park. It sort of feels like another home game with people wearing different jerseys.
“It’s certainly easy to get positive energy after a win. I suppose the challenge when you don’t have a win is to turn up feeling good. So it is easier on these sort of days to turn up on the back of a good win.
“As for the game, you saw every other game this week everyone started a bit slowly and found a bit more rhythm. It was always going to take us 10 or 15 minutes but in saying that we were happy with how we started. So pretty happy with the start and to be expected a bit of rust round one.”