Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan says the club has rallied around Josh Dugan since his emotional press conference but has no concerns around his star centre’s mental health heading into the Sharks’ biggest game of the season.
Dugan broke down in tears at a packed media session at Shark Park on Tuesday, describing himself as an ‘easy target’ believing he will never change the public’s perception of him despite his recent work off the field.
The 28-year-old former NSW and Australia representative was speaking publicly for the first time since a controversial appearance on a podcast last month which earned he and Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita written warnings from the club.
Dugan opened up about the strain and mental anguish it has caused him being touted as a rugby league bad boy which he believes stems from his sacking at Canberra in 2013 – a blemish on his career he has been unable to remove.
With Cronulla facing a do or die elimination semi-final against Penrith at Allianz Stadium on Friday night, Flanagan said while the club had been working with Dugan he was surprised by Tuesday’s events.
“[I] wasn’t expecting it. [It’s] pretty delicate. We’ve sort of been working with Josh but we didn’t expect that,” he said.
“We’re dealing with him. It’s a delicate situation and we need to deal with it in the right manner. Not through the media.
“Maybe [Tuesday] was a good thing for Josh to get it off his chest… he’s been ok.
“The whole club has [rallied around him]. With all our players we’ve got to make sure they’re ok. Sometimes we think they’re big and strong but sometimes we need to look a little bit deeper.”
Flanagan said he and the club were unaware of Dugan suffering any mental health problems when they signed him from St George Illawarra for this season.
With Thursday being R U OK? Day, a national day of action reminding people to ask those close to them how they are in a meaningful way, Flanagan said mental health issues were wide-spread in society including rugby league.
“I think we all realise that. I’m sure all you here have heard of it, got friends, family, whatever, have been through it,” he said.
“So it’s definitely a concern especially with male mental health. R U Okay Day is today. It’s definitely something that we all need to be aware of and it is an issue in sport, especially rugby league.
“I think we look at those players and they’re big, strong and tough physically. It doesn’t mean they’re big, strong and tough mentally.
“If you have some type of issue it’d be good to be in a place like an NRL football club because there is a lot of support. An awful amount of support that the NRL supply in the funding of welfare and education managers. There’s a lot of support from within the club as well.
“There’s a lot of people in the club. We’ve got some welfare and education managers here. We’ve got some good support networks. It’s not just Josh, there’s a lot of players in the club. Some more than others that we need to manage and look after.”
Flanagan said he was confident Dugan would be ready mentally to do battle with the Panthers as Cronulla look to continue their march towards a second premiership in three years.
Though there is a chance Dugan could return to the wing to accommodate Jesse Ramien who is likely to return from an ankle injury.
“Josh we’ve all said has made his mistakes. He’s got to stand up to those. He’s a young man that is trying to do his best and is working hard behind the scenes and we’ll continue to work hard with him,” Flanagan said.
“He’s a big game player. He’s back, he’s had a disrupted season this year because of a fracture in his lower leg. It’s good to get him back. There’s bigger issues there but we need a bit of respect for the player and his family and we’ll deal with it in private.”