Ahead of his 10th derby clash, Cronulla centre Josh Dugan has defended his former coach Paul McGregor and blamed St George Illawarra’s miserable losing streak on their players.
Dugan spent four of his five seasons at the Dragons under McGregor and rated him as “one of the better” coaches he had played under.
The Dragons have slumped to a 0-4 record – their worst season start since 2005 – putting McGregor’s career on life support.
But Dugan said players needed to put their hands up.
“It’s a bit of a cop-out blaming the coaches,” he said on Thursday.
“They do have a say in it but it’s the 17 guys on the field who are performing or not performing that leads to results.”
“I’ve been under Mary and I think he’s one of the better coaches that I’ve had and I’ve got a lot of time and respect for him.”
Dugan said the Dragons’ winless record could be disregarded ahead of Sunday night’s Campbelltown Stadium derby clash.
“I’ve been on both sides and any sort of form goes out the window.
“We’re not worried about how they’ve started the year, we’re worried about their strike players and how good a team they actually are.”
Managing ongoing knee issues, Dugan has taken his chances since young gun Bronson Xerri tested positive to a cocktail of performance-enhancing substances, opening up a spot in the centres.
But the 30-year-old, who has had more than his fair share of headlines, had reached out to the teenager in concern for his mental health.
“I’m worried about Bronson the person, not the player,” Dugan said.
“He’s stayed pretty quiet but I reached out as soon as I found out and he thanked me for the support – he’s going through a tough time.”
Bronson’s centre partner Jesse Ramien was the star of their last-round victory over North Queensland after returning to the Sharks following a disappointing nine-month stint with Newcastle.
Dugan said the 23-year-old was happy and settled back at Cronulla.
“When you talk to Jesse he probably regrets leaving a little bit in the first place.
“For family reasons wanted to move closer to home but I think being here and around some of the boys … he feels more at home.
“He’s in a good place off the field as well and I know better than anyone, if you’re in a good place off the field, you’re going to turn up to training and enjoy it and turn those performances over into games.”