By Chris Kennedy (NRL.com)
St George Illawarra's Auckland Nines captain Josh Dugan is entering his third straight Nines tournament and says being given the honour of captaining the Red V is a particularly proud moment given his troubled younger days.
The 25-year-old is heading into his third full season at the Dragons and will lead around a young and exciting squad this weekend as his side faces a tough pool draw against local rivals and last year's finalists Cronulla, as well his old club Canberra and the Gold Coast Titans.
"It's a pretty good pool. We've got last year's finalists in the Sharks and it's definitely a bit of a tougher pool but we've got a side that I think is fit and fast and mobile and I think we can give it a good shake up," Dugan told NRL.com.
The NSW Origin star was happy to nominate a few of the side's up-and-comers as names to watch over the course of the weekend.
"We've got Jay Gallagher from the [Illawarra] Cutters who's got a chance now, he's been training unreal for the Cutters and he's started training with us once a week so he gets his chance.
"We've got young Reuban Garrick as well. He's an 18-year-old who came straight from SG Ball then the 20s. He's a little whippet but he's fit and fast and got some skill about him."
Reflecting on his own journey from being released by Canberra following a serious of off-field indiscretions to now finding himself captaining St George Illawarra to the prestigious pre-season tournament as a genuine on-field leader and senior player at the club, Dugan said he can afford to be proud of what he's achieved.
"I've always seen myself as a leader on the field but to be named captain is a big honour for me," he said.
"I'm quietly proud of myself just from where I've been and where I am now so I don't think too much will change for me. I'm a pretty big talker on the field anyway so I think it will just be another day in the office for me."
Dugan said he'd always been up to the task of talking on-field from the time he debuted.
"There's no shying away from it; I remember when I debuted when I was 18 being one of the biggest talkers in the team so it just comes naturally to me now," he said.
"Over the last few years I've built the leadership into me as a person, off the field as well and I think that's the reasoning for me being able to get this chance."
As one of the few players to be entering his third Nines tournament, Dugan laughed that no-one could really claim to be an expert at the game yet.
"I don't think anyone knows what it's about, even if they've played every year, it's just one of those games where you've just got to go out there and do your best," he said.
"But I love coming over, I love being a part of it, it's a great weekend and fun footy to play and the atmosphere the crowd creates is something special."