Sought-after NRL fullback Josh Dugan has commenced contract extension talks with Canberra but insists talk of a hot race for his signature beyond 2012 is not playing on his mind.
The NSW State of Origin fullback comes off contract at the end of the year, with the Bulldogs and St George Illawarra among those said to be keen on luring the 21-year-old star.
Dugan claims his preference is to remain with the Raiders and says while speculation surrounding his future can be frustrating, he’s firmly focussed on the Raiders’ upcoming campaign.
“It’s not playing on my mind too much, but it’s more a distraction for everyone else,” Dugan said.
“Getting all the comments about other teams chasing me, it does get frustrating.
“It’s just about testing my worth at the moment and … when it comes time to talk about that stuff then I will.”
Dugan was one of several Raiders players doing the rounds at Canberra Hospital’s paediatrics ward on Tuesday, handing out footballs and goodie bags to young patients.
But even there Dugan couldn’t escape talk about his future, with one child in a Bulldogs jumper indicating a move to Canterbury – not a footy – was preferable gift.
“Kano over there is a Bulldogs supporter, so I think he’d be happy (with a move),” Dugan said with a smile.
“But that’s between my manager and whoever he talks to.”
Dugan’s manager Paul Sutton said there had been no formal talks with any of the Sydney clubs, but positive negotiations had started with the Raiders two weeks ago.
“They’ve made a good first offer,” he told AAP.
Dugan, who rates himself 100 per cent fit and recovered from last year’s ankle surgery, gets his first hit-out in the NRL All Stars team next month and is eagerly anticipating an injury-free Raiders season.
Five-eighth Terry Campese is another desperate to stay out of the casualty ward after a nightmare season in which he played only a single half of football due to knee and groin injuries.
“Just getting out there in the green jumper is the main priority this year,” Campese said.
The Raiders finished second-last in 2011 in Campese’s absence but the veteran believes the team has the goods to do much better in 2012, evidenced by their presence in the 23-man emerging Blues squad.
“We had five guys up there, so it just shows that they’re still confident in us.
“Hopefully we can start the season well and come Origin time they are looking at the Raiders because we’re up there at the top of the table.
“We’re a top four team if we get our combinations right.”