Benji Marshall contract causes hiccup for Dragons

Benji Marshall (centre) announces his decision to join the Dragons on Friday. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Benji Marshall (centre) announces his decision to join the Dragons on Friday. Picture: GETTY IMAGES


St George Illawarra officials are confident that a dispute with Wests Tigers over Benji Marshall's contract won't prevent the former New Zealand skipper from playing next weekend but he may not make his NRL debut with the club until the round-12 blockbuster against South Sydney at ANZ Stadium.

Dragons chief executive Peter Doust is expected to meet with his Tigers counterpart Grant Mayer and NRL officials to discuss a clause in Marshall's deed of release from his former club last year which states that they and St George Illawarra would have to agree on "commercial terms" before he would be allowed to play against them before 2016.

The parties were involved in talks on the issue up to 4pm last Friday but the Dragons refused to accede to demands for $175,000 compensation before announcing the signing of Marshall on a two-and-a-half year contract.

Mayer refused to budge on the club's stance, first reported by Fairfax Media on April 22, on Sunday but said the Tigers were prepared to consider a "combination of cash and contra" similar to the deal the Bulldogs did with the Broncos before releasing prop Ben Hannant in which their Brisbane-based members received tickets for matches between the two clubs at Suncorp Stadium.

"It is a matter of compensation but we have said they can do it over three years, it can be part cash and part contra ... we are not being too onerous we want to make it sooner rather than later," Mayer said.

Mayer said the NRL had a copy of Marshall's deed of release and senior officials Jim Doyle and Todd Greenberg were aware of the club's expectations.

But Fairfax Media has been told that the NRL is unlikely to block Marshall's registration and he will be free to play next weekend.

"I am pleased to hear that Grant doesn't want to stand in Benji's way and I think the NRL want to see Benji play, so we always thought we would sit down and talk our way through it," said Doust, who added that St George Illawarra had inserted a similar clause in Mark Gasnier's deed of release when he went to play French rugby union.

"How you define an outcome within those contractual terms is pretty vague but we believe everybody's interests are served by us getting that matter resolved and we don't see it as a big sticking point otherwise we wouldn't have proceeded.

"There are various ways of looking at it.

"I think it is fair to say that there is a term there that says the contract has to be registered, it doesn't mean the NRL won't deem it to be registered if they feel what we have done is reasonable."

Dragons coach Steve Price would not be drawn on his immediate plans for Marshall after Sunday's 38-6 loss to Canterbury but there is a chance he will play for Illawarra Cutters next weekend rather than at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night.

If so, Marshall would not make his first appearance in the Red V for a further two weeks as St George Illawarra have a bye in round 11.

Despite their next match against Souths being a Rabbitohs home game, the Dragons would be able to cash in on the debut of their star signing as the two clubs have a gate-sharing arrangement until 2016.


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