Injury plagued Cronulla Sharks star Josh Dugan is set to return to action in Round 3.
Sharks coach John Morris confirmed Dugan will return when the season resumes after overcoming chronic knee arthritis.
After missing consecutive days of training in the offseason due to inflammation in his knee, there were fears that Dugan would be forced into early retirement.
Morris revealed that with an increased training schedule, Dugan could have returned to play before the league went into shutdown.
“I probably would have played Josh in Round 3, if there was a round played,” Morris told The Daily Telegraph.
“He took some pretty big leaps forward back in Round 1 and 2 when we upped his training load.
“The timing around it now with the Josh Morris exit to the Roosters, has really opened the door for us to get more footy out of Duges.
“We need him out there and it is good that he has taken some steps forward.”
Morris said when Dugan and the club had a better understanding of his injury and could put into place an appropriate treatment plan, his knee made significant improvements.
“The whole process in the off-season was Duges trying to figure out what was causing him grief,” he said.
“There were different treatments discussed and one of the more invasive surgery options he would have struggled to come back from, but he ruled out that surgery pretty quickly.
“Now it is more about managing his load and treating it more. When we understood that as a club, we have been able to put a good plan around it.
“That is why this [shutdown] time has really helped us, in that it has given Josh extra time to get the injury right.”
Previously, Dugan had hit out at suggestions that he was faking an injury to get out of playing for the Sharks. He insisted he wanted to play out the final two years of his contract and not to be medically retired from the game.
He revealed he had been seeing two specialists to help treat the injury.
“The MRIs also haven’t come back clean, they show chronic arthritis and inflammation of the bone and joint,” he told reporters in February.
Morris believes Dugan will be able to focus on the game when the season restarts instead of the headlines.
“There have been some incorrect reports about his injury, but Duges is used to dealing with a few headlines,” he said.
“That was never going to worry him. He has been through a fair bit in the past and he always seems to stay focused and get right.
“He will handle this challenge like has with the other ones.”
Dugan also had to face being told that he can look elsewhere for a game, despite having two years to go on his contract with Cronulla. He was one of the players shortlisted to the Catalans Dragons in the English Super League. The French club later went with Israel Folau.
Morris believes a fit Dugan can still be a force for the Sharks.
“People forget we got some good footy out of Josh last year,” he said.
“He was in the top 10 for tackle breaks in the NRL and he played 23 games.
“If you asked me to have those stats for any player in our squad over 20 games, I’d jump at it.
“I know how to manage him as far as his physical load goes, so I just need to get the remaining 18 games out of him.
“That is what we are going to need because he is an Australian player and at his best, he is a real handful.”
Morris also confirmed Matt Moylan (calf) and Bronson Xerri (shoulder) should be fit for when the league resumes play.
“I think that is probably the silver lining of the coronavirus break,” he said.
“We had some players who had some injuries, so that extra bit of time has done them a world of good. Hopefully, they are on track for selection when the competition resumes.”