Matt Dufty’s biggest critic is the reason why the game’s most in-form fullback is running around for the Dragons, despite ”a lot of interest” from the Warriors before he had played a game of first grade.
Ahead of a showdown with Kiwi custodian Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in a bumper Friday night clash, Dufty has spoken for the first time on the Warriors’ approach to him when he was still plying his trade in the Red V lower grades.
Despite carving up with 54 tries in 65 under 20 games, more than any player in the Holden Cup’s history, Dufty was unsure where he stood with his junior club when the Warriors came calling.
Still just 20 and with star fullback Josh Dugan seemingly entrenched in the No.1 jumper, Dufty gave the approach serious consideration.
Until Ben Hornby, the then-SG Ball coach who demoted Dufty to 18th man duties the first game he coached him, made a call of his own.
”I was coming off an injury and was off contract at the Dragons and they hadn’t talked to me, so my manager just said we’ll go have a talk around,” Dufty said.
”The Warriors showed a lot of interest because someone was injured over there. I thought it was a realistic thing but then Mary [coach Paul McGregor] and Benny Hornby came up to me and said ‘there’s no way we’re letting you go’. That was probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
”I was a bit worried and I didn’t know if the Dragons wanted me or not. I was still in 20s … your career’s definitely not set in stone then. I didn’t know what to think but obviously it all worked out in the end.”
Dugan joined the Sharks this season and Dufty has made the fullback spot his own, with a contract extension landing before a ball was kicked this year and six tries for the season – second best in the NRL.
Hornby, who wore the same No.1 with distinction for half his own storied Red V career, ranks as one of Dufty’s oldest mentors and is still in his ear now as an assistant to McGregor.
It’s a relationship the 22-year-old is clearly fond of, which famously started with Hornby dropping the youngster back in 2013 when his attitude had got beyond his 17-year-old boots.
”Inside the club he’s my biggest critic,” Dufty grins.
”He tells me everything I do wrong, he has no problem saying it. That’s the type of relationship we have.
”But he even said today he’s over the moon for me and he’s really happy and he just wants to see me keep getting better. That means a lot having someone in my corner like that.
“Besides my parents he definitely criticises me a lot, from a good place.”