Benji Marshall already looking to future

Benji Marshall at training this week. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN
Benji Marshall at training this week. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Benji Marshall rests comfortably underneath WIN Stadium's ageing southern grandstand - much like the man himself, critics argue, after a first couple of efforts which hardly endeared himself to the most passionate supporter base in the NRL.

Why the Dragons, Benji? How much speed have you lost? How long will it take you and Gareth Widdop to be on the same page?

How do you cope with the suffocating expectation of a new expectant fan base? Who do you want to coach the club long term?

He never bats an eyelid. Answers each question politely - he has done the same in a number of inquisitions before reaching this end of this interview conga line.

"I think I'm the oldest in the team ... it's sad," he laughs, barely flinching from his position deep in the bowels of the stand.

Marshall is 29. Save for injured 30-year-old halfback Michael Witt, there is no other member of the Dragons squad who is older.

Despite fizzling in his final year at the Tigers before a failed rugby union switch, the Dragons still shuffled a million-dollar contract across the table when Marshall was on the hunt for a new club.

And for 2½ years?

"You probably get a bit slower as you get older," Marshall muses, a refreshing show of honesty in a sport which can be anything but sometimes.

"I'm 29 now and you can't expect to be the same speed as when you're 21 or 22.

"With a couple of injuries over the last couple of years and turf toe, it's probably hindered my speed a little bit. I needed to get that [running game] back and I think I found that on the weekend."

The club Marshall found that against on the weekend just happened to be the Sharks, his other major suitor before he opted for a struggling Dragons.

The shire would have been easy for Marshall. His mates were there. His home is not far from there. And it would be easily to assume his future should have also been there.

So, why the Dragons, who logic would suggest was the furthest thing removed from his comfort zone?

"It's still the same thing I see now ... it's unlimited potential," Marshall says.

"It's such a young group. I can see the potential there and with a bit of experience these young guys could be anything. They could be a force to be reckoned with for five to 10 years."

That's the thing. Marshall definitely won't be around when it comes but he reckons the ingredients are there. He can play a part in helping sow the seeds of St George Illawarra's success, on and off the field, for however long it may take.

That won't appease a fandom who expect - rather than hope for - results. They've seen red over their beloved Red V's stuttering couple of seasons.

Pressure? Marshall has never been immune to it.

"That's probably half the battle," he says of the constant expectation of fans, explaining going back to his instincts of running the ball had helped after watching old You Tube footage of himself last week.

"I try to take the pressure away and it [running more] helped enormously."

Wise guys noted there was barely a hint of celebration from St George Illawarra's new No 7 after he played a lead role in Josh Dugan's Origin audition last week against a depleted Sharks.

"I was so concentrated on making sure the next thing I did was good and worrying about celebrating after the game," Marshall says.

"Because I was so under pressure with performing I just wanted to make sure I did my job.

"Sure, they were a weakened team but you've got to play what's in front of you. If that's what it takes to get a bit of confidence back I think I took a lot out of it."

So comes his greatest test yet against the Panthers on Saturday?

"In my first couple of games I was trying to find my feet and we were trying to build a combination and I probably took a little bit of the ball away from Gaz," Marshall said.

"We're getting better and we've still got a long way to go. I really feel like we can really do some damage together and once we get to know each other's game."


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