The Dragons are confident the high-profile recruitment of Benji Marshall for two-and-a-half years is not a gamble, saying they are excited to bring a high-quality footballer with the right attitude to the club.
Dragons CEO Peter Doust said part of the club’s due diligence process was to speak to Marshall to ensure he was making the move for the right reasons and also to ensure they were confident he could return to his best football.
“Benji is certainly a marquee athlete, somebody that comes to the Dragons with, we think, just the right attitude, and someone that our playing roster, our players are keen to have join the Dragons as well,” Doust said.
“He will bring a number of attributes to our club. Particularly importantly, he will add a flavour to our football on the field that we are all very excited about.”
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He said the recruitment was “not a gamble of any consequence as far as we’re concerned”.
“There were a number of things we wanted to discuss with him about his state of mind and what goals he had and trying to achieve in this return," Doust said.
"Once we’d been through those sort of considerations, we’re absolutely confident he’s going to deliver on his ambitions.”
Dragons coach Steve Price said it wasn’t important whether Marshall would wear the Dragons’ problematic No.7 jersey – with none of Michael Witt, Sam Williams or Adam Quinlan nailing down the spot in short stints so far this year – or the No.6 that former Storm pivot Gareth Widdop has made his own.
“The way we play there is irrelevant. We play both sides of the ruck with Gareth and the other halves,” Price said.
“I’ve had a few dealings with Benji over the last few weeks, he’s a quality man and very humble, he’s doing this for the right reasons. We’re excited to have him in the Red V.”
Price said he wasn’t yet sure how long it would be until Marshall gets a shot at first grade but he will join the team for training on Tuesday following their Round 9 clash with the Bulldogs, meaning he could theoretically make his club debut as early as the Round 10 match against the Eels at Parramatta next Saturday.
“We’ve got good systems in place and I’m excited to get a quality football player as part of our football team," Price said.
"He’s down to 91 kilos, he’s in very good shape, he’s done a lot of running over there with the Blues.”
For his part, Marshall said part of the appeal of the club was the huge strike in the outside backs, including NSW Origin fullback Josh Dugan and Test wingers Brett Morris and Jason Nightingale, as well as the club’s proud history and the chance for a fresh start.
He admitted to some laziness and complacency in his final year at Wests Tigers but said he had no doubt he could get back to his best at the Dragons.
“I’m really looking forward to learning about the history of the players that used to play and really keen to getting involved in the culture and really keen to meet all the players and try and train hard with them and earn a spot in this team,” he said.
“There’s no denying their back three is one of the best in the competition. Their forwards are solid and up-and-coming, and the club as a whole is on the way up again and it’s something I wanted to be a part of.”
He said he expected there to be pressure on his performances from the outset and was prepared to play his way back through NSW Cup.
“It is a challenge, obviously a lot of the pressure will be on my performance," he said.
"I think my main priority has to be playing good on the field and performing week-in, week-out. If that takes two weeks, three weeks, whether I play reserve grade or whatever, I’m willing to do what it takes to do that.”
However, he said he felt ready for first-grade whenever the opportunity arose.
“I have to get through a few training sessions and get a feel for the game again," he said.
"From my point of view I feel like I’m ready to go. What I did learn about the whole game of rugby and coming back is I got a bit lazy and a bit complacent and it definitely affected the way I played.
“Hopefully I can do the opposite of that here. I sort of feel like the new kid at school, I have to open myself up again and get to know people and I think that’s what brings the best out of me and will challenge me.”
He said he definitely had a point to prove in his return, not just to everyone else but to himself as well.
“I left on a low; my form was terrible," he admitted.
"That probably came down to my attitude at the time and a bit of laziness and probably getting a bit too comfortable.
“This move to the Dragons sort of gets me out of my comfort zone and it’s something that I needed. I’m keen to do whatever it takes to get back to my best.
"Do I think I’m past my best? No. It is going to take time? Probably. I feel I’ve got back the desire and ambition to be at my best.”