RUGBY LEAGUE - DRAGONS
Gareth Widdop has pleaded for time to be afforded to new halves partner Benji Marshall, with statistics revealing the impact he is having on the Dragons' attack.
Widdop pulled the strings as St George Illawarra blasted through the first three rounds of the season unbeaten, but took a back seat to Marshall in the Dragons' loss to the Rabbitohs on Monday night. It was the Dragons' seventh defeat in their last eight matches.
According to NRL Stats, Marshall received the ball 70 times against Souths - almost double that of the Dragons' primary playmaker Widdop (36), who has been nursing a hand complaint.
Only in the round-two win over the Warriors, when he handled the ball 28 times, has Widdop had less direct involvement on St George Illawarra's attack.
One of rugby league's most respected analysts, Peter Sterling, has questioned whether the Dragons have already become too focused on Marshall.
Marshall only signed a 2½ year deal with the Dragons last month.
"Each week you've got different game plans and this week was to go down [Benji's right] side a little bit more," Widdop said.
"We did quite well early and we try to link, but we do have separate sides if we're in the middle of the field. It's just a combination thing with linking."
The pair combined on a deft Marshall kick to set up Tyson Frizell's late try, but it was a rare highlight for the scrumbase combination, again playing behind an overpowered forward pack.
Pressed on whether he thought the union with Marshall was coming together slower than anticipated, Widdop said: "He's played the game for a long time and it's always hard when you come to a new club.
"Being in union the last six and seven months it was always going to be hard. It's about patience and time ... that's what it's going to come down to.
"The more we train together and the more we play I'm sure we'll become a better combination."
But time is one thing the Dragons may not have as a season which started with so much promise threatens to fizzle out by its midway point.
"In rugby league you have your ups and downs and at the moment we're in a bit of a rut," Widdop said.
"I think we're just going to have to stay positive and have confidence in what we're doing. It's disappointing we didn't get the result [against Souths], but it was a couple of steps forward.
"It's about sticking together and I'm sure things will turn."
Meanwhile, the Dragons have until midday on Wednesday to decide if they'll contest a grade one dangerous throw charge levelled at Mitch Rein from Monday night's clash.
Rein was slapped with the charge after placing Tom Burgess in an awkward position during a tackle in which teammates Dan Hunt and Bronson Harrison were also involved.
If he fights the charge and is found guilty at the judiciary, he will still miss only the Dragons' clash with an equally desperate Sharks at WIN Stadium on Saturday night.