By Jack Brady (NRL.com)
After copping a swinging arm from Dragons teammate Joel Thompson on his surgically-repaired jaw at training, it was only a matter of time before Josh Dugan made his return.
Dugan will play his first football since State of Origin III on Saturday night in the Dragons' local derby against the Sharks.
Asked how he proves his fitness for a broken jaw, Dugan said Thompson – who tweeted last week he needs to "stop thinking I'm playing bush footy" – gave him a fair indication it would hold up just two weeks after surgery.
Dugan's jaw injury was another blow for the fullback who has contended with elbow and eardrum complaints in 2016.
"[Thompson] was going for the ball and I had my head down and he accidentally clipped me. So that was a bit of a test," Dugan laughed.
"I've increased the contact ever since in terms of defending and getting tackled. It's been all up to me: how sore it was going to be and whether or not I could play.
"It's been a long year for me. There's been a couple of injuries that I've had no control over and missing out on Origin, and having to watch the boys over the past few weeks has been tough," he added.
"I'm really excited to be back out there again and I'm ready to put my best foot forward."
Suffering his broken jaw when a shoulder charge from Australian teammate Greg Inglis hit him flush on the face, Dugan insisted he holds no grudges towards the Rabbitohs captain.
"I felt it straight away. I wasn't concussed or anything like that but I could feel my jaw was out of place and so my bite was out of whack as well," Dugan said.
"When the adrenalin wore off and I started cooling down, the nerve started going haywire. I had to go two days with the broken jaw like that before I could have surgery.
"It was aggravating because the nerve kept getting caught between the bone and sparking everywhere through my chin. I still don't have full feeling in my chin now as a result."
The Dragons' last start 12-8 loss to the Broncos means the Red V have to win every one of their remaining games to achieve an unlikely finals berth.
While the club's defence has held firm in recent weeks, the Dragons' attack remains a constant battle and the reason for their five-game losing run.
"We haven't written ourselves off. You shouldn't be in this sport if you're going to write yourselves off when you're still a chance," Dugan said.
"I feel our defence is back to its best too. We held the Broncos to 12 points and the Bulldogs to 13 the week before, and only lost by four points or fewer each time.
"I can't put my finger on [why we don't score more]. There's times where we can score 40 in a game and others where we struggle to score tries."
Dugan has recorded just one try assist this year but said coach Paul McGregor's game-plan dictates he keeps tucking the ball under his arm.
"Our game plan strays away from me ball playing and instead I become more of a runner," he said.
"I've never had a problem with that, but I still feel if I had the opportunity that I can ball play if needed. I don't get too many opportunities to but I have it up my sleeve."