Widdop, Marshall hold key to Dragons' charge to play-offs

Dragons halves Gareth Widdop, left, and Benji Marshall with coach Paul McGregor at training.

Dragons halves Gareth Widdop, left, and Benji Marshall with coach Paul McGregor at training.

RUGBY LEAGUE

After witnessing Gareth Widdop's masterful performance against the Tigers on Sunday, Dragons lock Trent Merrin believes the Englishman and halves partner Benji Marshall are poised to fully unlock the Dragons' finals potential.

It says a lot about the Dragons' precarious finals position that coach Paul McGregor was willing to risk Merrin's early return from a shoulder injury.

The Blues forward is a key man for the Dragons but he said he was happy to simply play his role in the Widdop masterclass on Sunday.

"He's our key . . . him and Benj. When they're in the zone they're unstoppable," Merrin said.

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"He's unreal, just his composure out there. When the game gets a bit frantic and we get a bit behind you just look at him and he's just so calm and in control and that lifts the whole team."

Marshall's mid-season recruitment to partner Widdop raised eyebrows, but Merrin said the Dragons players never doubted that the pair could lead them to the finals.

"All the boys had faith in them. We knew it takes time to build that relationship and the weeks that I've been back from Origin and been with the boys you can just tell how much more they've gelled together," Merrin said.

"We've worked really hard in the middle but it makes it easier for us when the halves are doing their job out wide and getting them set.

"I was a bit dusty during the week in ball work trying to fit back in but having those players in the team really helps you out and pulls you into position where you need to be after being away for part of the year.

"That's why they're the leaders and why they control us so well around the park."

While Widdop and Marshall - along with in-form centre Josh Dugan - have received most of the raps for the turnaround, Merrin said the forwards had also steeled themselves for the finals grind after wearing the brunt of criticism during the club's mid-season run of outs.

"We've been criticised in the media at the start of the year about being soft, so we've turned that all around and it's something we want to keep developing," Merrin enthused.

"We always had faith and belief in each other in the middle. We believed we were never soft, it was just us coming together and building that bond to make the team gel and play good footy.

"You can tell the halves are doing their job; we're doing our job and that's the way we've got to look at it coming into the semis.

"We're not there yet but I feel our best footy is to come."

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