Dugan has already undergone a series of injections to see how his knee reacts. His workloads have also been monitored. Cronulla coach John Morris has confirmed Dugan will not be fit for round one.
The Sharks, already feeling the salary-cap squeeze and desperate to get bang for their buck from their biggest earner, have become just as frustrated by the nature of Dugan’s injury. What has added to their anxiety is he moved so well before Christmas.
Dugan did himself no favours with the Sharks’ front office when he did not accept the club’s initial medical findings and sought a second opinion from an independent surgeon.
There was talk of Dugan being medically retired because of the pain in his knee, something Sam Burgess and South Sydney were able to get approved by the NRL before Christmas.
Unlike Burgess, Dugan has not suffered any fresh injuries to his knee and is ineligible to qualify for an early payout.
Dugan, who was one of the club’s best players in the second half of 2019, told the Herald last week: “I’d like clarity around it, too – it’s frustrating me more than anyone – and hopefully I get that next week.”
He took to Twitter on the same day to post: “I’m training every day and every day I’m trying to get right to get back on the field”.
Cronulla were happy to take Dugan to Papua New Guinea on Thursday before the club’s trial against Canterbury on Saturday night. Dugan has been to the region in the past with the Prime Minister’s XIII but was not entirely keen to make the latest trip.
Because of his international profile and tattoos, Dugan is adored by the league-loving locals and even popped up on the front page of The National who referred to him as ”Joshua”.
The uncertainty over Dugan’s return date, along with concerns over Matt Moylan’s hamstrings – the fullback continues to have his field sessions cut short by medical staff – means the Sharks are reluctant to grant Josh Morris his wish for a Sydney Roosters switch.
Dugan, Morris, Moylan, Bronson Xerri, who is returning from off-season shoulder surgery, recruit Jesse Ramien and Ronaldo Mulitalo are all vying for the back five spots.
Meanwhile, St George Illawarra skipper Cameron McInnes is expected to learn on Monday if he is any chance of an early return from an MCL injury.
Ruled out for between six and 12 weeks, McInnes had hoped to get better news on Friday, but Dragons officials now need to wait until after the weekend to find out the full extent of the No.9’s injury.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.