Benji to play against Eels


St George Illawarra coach Steve Price believes his star halves pairing of Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop will provide the Dragons with strike power on both sides of the field after the former Wests Tigers superstar was cleared to make his NRL return against Parramatta on Saturday.

Marshall will start the match at halfback after Dragons chief executive Peter Doust and his Tigers counterpart Grant Mayer agreed to a deal over a clause in the terms of release from the Concord-based club. Price had no hesitation including him in the starting side for the match at Parramatta Stadium after just three training sessions with his new teammates.

Benji Marshall at Dragons' training on Friday. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Benji Marshall at Dragons' training on Friday. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

"He has been fantastic, it is like he hasn't been out of the game to be honest," Price said.

"It has been really positive, he is very confident and he is very humble and a proud man.

"I can't fault him, he has brought a lot of energy to the playing group and it is just about going out there and doing his job and in coming weeks he will get better and better as he gets more game time and game fitness. He has ticked all of the boxes which we asked of him and is very keen to get back out on the field and play."

The former New Zealand Test captain will take the place of Sam Williams, who was named to wear the No 7 jersey earlier this week but did not train with the team at WIN Stadium on Friday before the clash with the Eels. Marshall trained in his spot on the right side in defence and Price later confirmed that he would play halfback in place of Williams.

"The guys who have been given that opportunity have been doing a quality job for us," Price said of Williams, Michael Witt and Adam Quinlan. "But when you pick up a quality player like Benji, and after he ticked all of those boxes with the three sessions we have had this week, he needs to come into our football team."

With Widdop playing on the left of the ruck, Price said the Dragons now have attacking potency on both sides of the field.

"They are different types of players," Price said of Marshall and Widdop, the England five-eighth. "Whereas Benji likes the different type of angles to play off and that type of stuff, Gareth has got a very sound kicking game and they will certainly complement each other going forward in the coming weeks. It is a healthy position to be in and it just gives us strike on both sides of the field."

However, Price warned his team not to expect the addition of Marshall to be a solution to the problems that last Sunday saw them thrashed 38-6 by Canterbury in a performance he labelled "soft".

Prop Will Matthews has been promoted from the NSW Cup to give the Dragons's pack some added size and Price has spent the week focusing on his own team's form rather than worrying about what they can expect from Parramatta.

Jason Nightingale is not expected to recover in time from a knee injury despite being named earlier in the week.

Peter Mata'utia is expected to take his place on the wing, making his Dragons debut.

"By bringing Benji straight in it is not going to solve all of our problems," Price said.

Neither Doust nor Mayer would reveal details of the deal agreed to for the Tigers to officially grant Marshall a release, but Fairfax Media believes it is between the $175,000 they initially asked for and the $75,000 the Dragons offered.

Both said the negotiations had been harmonious.


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