Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy believes Benji Marshall could be the key to unlocking the finals door for St George Illawarra.
Without superstar halfback Cooper Cronk for another month with a broken arm, Bellamy is wary of Marshall before Monday’s showdown at WIN Stadium.
Bellamy tried to snare Marshall after his failed rugby union stint in New Zealand but the playmaker opted for a longer term deal in Wollongong.
Marshall was heavily criticised for his rusty start to the NRL season but has started to find his feet.
Bellamy reckons his right-side combination with NSW representative Josh Dugan adds firepower to the Dragons and could be the spark to reignite the team’s charge.
‘‘He’s taken a bit of pressure off Gareth so Gaz can do a bit more of his individual stuff that he’s really good at,’’ he said.
‘‘Having Josh Dugan out on the right edge working with Marshall has been a positive for them as well.’’
Bellamy has challenged hishalves duo of Ben Roberts and Ben Hampton to build on their budding partnership.
Roberts and Hampton delivered their best performance of the season in the Storm’s 46-20 win over Parramatta and will play their fourth full game together against St George Illawarra on Monday at WIN Stadium.
Bellamy says the partnership is integral to his team’s push toward the finals. Cronk has still to resume full training after he broke his arm in the opening State of Origin match last month.
For his part, Marshall credits acting coach Paul McGregor as the inspiration behind his improved performance.
McGregor is a contender for the full-time NRL job at the Dragons next year after Steve Price was sacked.
However, the club is interested in the return of 2010 title-winning coach Wayne Bennett, with Neil Henry, Trent Barrett and Laurie Daley on the shortlist.
Marshall believes McGregor’s greatest asset is knowing when a player requires an arm around the shoulder, something he admits he’s needed since his return from rugby.
‘‘I still feel I’m trying to build my confidence. I do something good and I’m all right but then I do something bad and I get a bit down and remember the tough times again,’’ he said.
‘‘I made four errors last week, three the week before and I think 10 over five games. For a half that is far too many and ‘Mary’ could see I was down.
‘‘He came and spoke to me and told me I was the best halfback he had and that wasn’t going to change. It really was what I needed to hear.’’