WIZ: Benji Marshall needs time to go from a signing to a Saint

Gary Freeman Columnist

By , Gary Freeman is a Roar Expert

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    Benji Marshall was once a beloved member of the Tigers for a reason. (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Colin Whelan)

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    Now that the deed has been done and St George Illawarra have won Benji Marshall’s signature, there are many questions that need answers before the player can prove his worth to the Dragons.

    At the top of the tree is how will this enigmatic player be brought back to the NRL in a new club, surrounded by players he doesn’t know?

    Does coach Steve Price bring him in via brief cameos from the interchange bench or will Marshall be given a couple of weeks to find his feet and get some much-needed match fitness in the NSW Cup?

    Where will he be played? At halfback or in the centres as some have speculated? And if it’s halfback, who will be the Dragon’s chief playmaker, five-eighth Gareth Widdop, or Benji?

    I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, no-one outside of St George Illawarra really does. Our comments at this time are speculation and I am not prepared to predict whether his signing will be a genius decision or a downer for the joint-venture club.

    Give the Wiz about six to eight weeks and by that time I’ll be prepared to say here on The Roar whether the signing was the right move.

    League fans, especially Dragons fans, can be an impatient lot but Marshall is going to need time to find his rhythm back in rugby league after switching to rugby union. There can be no instant impact from the player – that is asking way too much.

    We are into the ninth round of the competition and some of the best players are only just starting to produce their best footy. Benji needs a reasonable amount of time to settle down, find his rhythm and learn his new team’s playing patterns.

    His confidence has taken a battering after failing in the other code and I feel he will need some time to re-adjust to league before he can start repaying the club that has invested heavily in his skills and experience.

    I also think coach Steve Price will be altering aspects of his team’s structure and playing style to accommodate a player of Marshall’s flair and spontaneity. That cannot happen overnight.

    My final comment on Marshall’s signing with the Dragons is aimed at the player himself.

    Benji, this is your last chance saloon and football must be uppermost in your mind. Put the TV appearances at Channel Nine on the back burner until you retire. Flick any radio gigs that are offered and try to keep the promotional and marketing stuff to the bare minimum.

    The money they are paying you is great, but in the end St George Illawarra did not fork out big money for a marketing tool or TV personality. They bought you because they needed something special on the field. They bought you to help win games for the Dragons.

    I wish Benji well in the exciting yet difficult weeks ahead. Who knows if he can pull off a successful comeback to rugby league?

    It is going to be fascinating to see how he and his new club go about their business.

    Gary Freeman
    Gary Freeman

    Gary 'Wiz' Freeman is one of the great halfbacks in New Zealand rugby league history. Now an outspoken and popular media personality, he joined The Roar in 2012 as an expert rugby league columnist.