What now for Williams?

Sam Williams could be displaced in the halfback pecking order by the Dragons’ pursuit of Benji Marshall. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Sam Williams could be displaced in the halfback pecking order by the Dragons’ pursuit of Benji Marshall. Picture: GETTY IMAGES


Sam Williams - the baby-faced playmaker who carried the "next Todd Carney" label at Canberra - could now face the prospect of being the Dragons's fourth or even fifth-choice halfback.

Looking for an opportunity, the 23-year-old left the Raiders behind last September to sweat it out in the WIN Stadium gym with his new teammates, an enforced post-season regime after the Raiders and Dragons missed the NRL finals.

Overlooked for round one, Williams had a one-off chance this season to prove he is the best partner for Gareth Widdop in the halves but is now playing five-eighth for NSW Cup team Illawarra Cutters.

Now, after picking up Williams and Michael Witt and their utility options in Adam Quinlan and Kyle Stanley, the Dragons couldn't resist making an offer to Benji Marshall.

A concern about the Dragons signing Marshall remains ... what impact does it have on the rest of the squad?

Of course, having a premiership player and former international adds value to the squad.

But what does it say about Steve Price and the Dragons coaching staff's confidence about the recruits they already have?

It wasn't so long ago when the club struggled to sign a halfback.

After Ben Hornby's retirement, they went with the versatile and reliable Kiwi international Nathan Fien and were prepared to throw Josh Drinkwater in at the deep end.

Both 30-year-old Witt and Williams are on one-year deals and Stanley, superbly talented but plagued by injury, is off-contract at the end of the season.

Stanley's return this season provided Price the chance to use his utility value off the bench as a back-up hooker option to Mitch Rein.

But more recently, the Dragons wanted Stanley to have more game time so he returned to the Cutters with the potential for a return to the NRL at halfback.

Quinlan remains Josh Dugan's understudy but impressed enough when the NRL fullback was injured to warrant Price picking him at halfback against Souths at the SCG.

Marshall would arrive in Wollongong at the age of 29 with good credentials but with a question mark about his ability to make an impact in the NRL again, after the failed Super rugby experiment with the Auckland-based Blues.

Assuming the ever-impressive Gareth Widdop is locked in at No 6, Marshall's only chance will be at halfback, or taking over the Stanley utility role.

The contrast in halves depth is stark when you compare the Dragons situation with the other two clubs who negotiated with Marshall.

Melbourne wanted a playmaking alternative to Ben Roberts to partner Test star Cooper Cronk, while the Sharks have the reliable Jeff Robson as a foil for Carney.

The rivals share a NSW Cup feeder team and last week played ex-Dragons and Bulldogs halfback Daniel Holdsworth and Ben Hampton, a young Storm playmaker with a handful of NRL games to his name.

Marshall presents value as a relatively low salary cap cost option but the Dragons's interest in him also reflects a long-standing history of problems the Red V has had with the No 7 jersey.

Since the joint venture was formed, Ben Hornby stands above as a premiership captain while Matt Head's career was held back by injury.

Williams remains the most likely long-term option for the Dragons, but his future is only clouded by the Dragons' pursuit of Marshall.


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