Josh Dugan fronted the media today ahead of Cronulla’s elimination final against the Penrith Panthers this weekend however, the looming game is not the talking point after his interview. Throughout the whole near 8 minute interview, Josh displayed a heightened level of emotion as he spoke every answer in full detail almost as if he was reflecting on the year that has passed so far. That was, until he was asked about the infamous podcast incident - one in which will not be delved into but that he says he has no comment regarding. This question created a spark from the media as he was then immediately asked how his mental state has been throughout the season. The spark developed into a fire and Dugan’s heart was so clearly seen.
“It’s been very tough. Especially when you’re getting jabbed by the media as well about certain things.”
He wore a smirk on his face as he spoke these words initially but you could so clearly see that the smirk was a cover up for the underlying hurt. Dugan has not been a hidden figure in the media throughout his career. There have been many ups and downs off the field however those negative moments often seem to be spotlighted for much longer than the positives, that is if the positives are shown at all. A reality of football perhaps, but nonetheless a difficult obstacle to overcome as a young man makes his way through life and the mistakes he has made. Mistakes which he says he is not proud of but that he has tried to overcome and personally believes he has overcome. In a split moment the smirk was gone and tears were formed in his eyes as he reflected on the target that he has worn for many years despite his personal growth.
Unfortunately the tears that Josh choked back were a journalists’ dream come true. The moment to capture a footballer breaking down was magic but really should be a moment of reflection on the harsh fact that his breakdown was a reaction to the past work of those in their profession.
“Negativity sells papers.”
An ugly truth in the rugby league world unfortunately. With that said though, who doesn’t read the newspaper? Children. The most easily influenced fans of us all. They ignore what the adults are reading on the front page and focus on what they see happening right in front of them in the real world. They use their real life interactions and experiences to create opinions on players themselves.
One example, is a young fan who goes by the nickname JP. A Dragons fan, along with his parents who made sure he was a member the day he was born. When Dugan was at the Dragons, he found himself with an admirer in JP mainly because he liked his “stickers” - a young child’s perspective of Dugan’s large tattoo collection. While Dugan was at the Dragons JP was lucky enough to meet him about 5 times, mainly at post match functions or the 10 year plus member function that the club puts together every year to thank long committed fans (JP was lucky enough to use his mother’s invite). Every time, Dugan would say hello to JP and happily sign his autograph or take a photo - he even interacted with him, laughing when asked about his stickers. Before Dugan’s departure for the Sharks, he met JP one last time and we may never know whether he was prompted before doing this but he walked right up to him and asked “How are you going JP?” It may seem like nothing but to a child and his father, having a star player like Josh Dugan recognise you and remember your name, is something special.
These players meet hundreds of fans a season so it would be easily forgiven if they didn’t remember the names of the ones they had met even if it was a few times but that day at Kograh when Dugan addressed JP by his name an impression was made.
Not to discredit Dugan in any way, but this is not a rare occurrence. Players care about the impact they have on their fans, especially the young ones because they know they are the future of rugby league. That’s what so many people don’t seem to acknowledge. They focus on the potential negative ramifications of an off field antic but ignore the positive benefits of an autograph given or photo taken.
Josh Dugan was JP’s first favourite player. He knows that he has to boo the Sharks when they come head to head with the Dragons but he’s still a Dugan fan at heart. Dugan helped form the connection to the game this family possibly wastes way too much time, effort and money on but it makes it all the worthwhile.
Josh Dugan is going to take the field for the Cronulla Sharks on Friday night knowing it could be the last game of what has been an incredibly difficult year for him personally. Win or lose however, there will be one little boy at home definitely cheering him on. In fact, there will be hundreds of kids who don’t read the newspapers and don’t care about Dugan’s past mistakes cheering him on.