Off contract at the end of the year, St George Illawarra coach Steve Price is under mounting pressure to get his side back on track. Will Benji Marshall be the immediate success Price needs him to be? Credit: Grant Trouville. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Pressure mounts on Price
If Dragons coach Steve Price didn’t get what the pundits meant by Benji Marshall’s signing being a gamble, perhaps yesterday’s hiding from the Bulldogs will offer some clarity.
Price has essentially staked his job on how the former Tigers superstar fares in the Red V. While Benji is playing to prove he’s still got it, Price is off contract at the end of the season and has made what may be his last roll of the dice for 2014 on the enigmatic Kiwi.
Having enjoyed a three-game winning streak to start the season, the Dragons have dramatically thudded back to earth. They met the NRL benchmark, the Bulldogs, on Sunday and were found wanting to the tune of a 32-point margin.
Their current 12th spot, their modest attack and their 15th-ranked defence spell it out: right now, the Dragons aren’t good enough to make the finals, let alone fight for the premiership. The so-far failed signings of Sam Williams and Michael Witt as playmaking foils for classy English five-eighth Gareth Widdop have certainly contributed to St George Illawarra’s plight.
Enter Marshall. At a time like this, is he the right player to prove the Saints’ saviour?
The signing is a gamble for obvious reasons. Marshall’s form at the end of his fabled Tigers career was poor, as he admitted when introduced as a Dragon last week. Looking back, he hasn’t shown great form in the NRL since 2011, when he was the competition’s top point-scorer.
As a player who likes to inject himself for a brilliant play where opportunity presents itself, rather than steer his side around, Marshall has only ever played well alongside genuine halfbacks (Scott Prince and Robert Lui). It remains to be seen if Widdop, a classic five-eighth, will complement him and vice versa. They will at least play one side of the ruck each, as Marshall did with Lui, meaning neither will cop the pressure of being the Red V’s dominant creative outlet.
Marshall lacked desire as his Tigers career petered out and his failed stint in rugby can’t have been great for his confidence. But he oozed enthusiasm for an NRL comeback at his Dragons unveiling and at his best – wowee, what a player.
Every rugby league fan should hope the gamble pays off, as there’s nothing quite like watching Benji at his flick-passing, side-stepping best. Price, most of all, will hope he has backed a winner.
The Dragons coach whacked his side with the ultimate insult after the Bulldogs mauling: soft. He is a man badly in need of a win and Marshall may well be rushed in to help him find one at Parramatta on Saturday afternoon.
Origin auditions: the good and the bad
It’s a wonderful thing, watching Origin auditions. It’s more Australian Idol than The Voice, because some really stink.
You had to feel for Knights centre Joey Leilua on Sunday. A massive long shot to win a NSW debut but at least somewhere in the gigantic muddled argument, the youngster handed the Panthers a pair of tries and bombed a couple of chances late in the game, in perhaps the worst match of his career. Leilua is a terrific player who simply had an off day, but that performance at that point in the Origin cycle was the talent show equivalent of making fart noises with your armpit on live TV.
Before that came Daniel “Harrison Craig” Tupou on Friday night. The gigantic winger is an awkward-looking unit but that lanky 195cm frame is an unchained melody when it comes to rugby league. A pair of powerful tries against the Tigers, on the back of his aerial prowess for City, brings him ever so close to a maiden NSW jersey. All Laurie Daley has to do is whack the button and turn his chair. Or is that scream out “Touchdown!” like a buffoon?
Blues' state of despair?
Mitchell Pearce. Kings Cross. Alcohol. Arrest. Origin in a couple of weeks. Facepalm. Nine in a row... Luke Brooks 2015.
Forget Steve Price for a moment. Ricky Stuart is a man well and truly under pressure at Canberra. The Raiders have conceded 108 points in back-to-back dismal losses and a "fun fast fact" revived in the wake of Saturday’s thrashing from the Warriors was that Stuart has a 24 per cent winning percentage as an NRL coach since 2008. Not flash, regardless of past achievements. Post-match lines such as, “I haven’t got much idea in regards to why this is happening” won’t give Canberra fans much confidence, especially if sensational young talent Anthony Milford departs for Brisbane as planned at season’s end.
Vale Reg Gasnier
Sadly, like many other rugby league fans, I never got to see the Prince of Centres play. So I defer to my dad, a mad St George fan, for his take on childhood hero Reg Gasnier.
"He would have been worth a lot of money in today's game, because he had everything: the looks, the skills. They called him Puff the Magic Dragon and that's exactly what he was: magic."
Vale to a rugby league Immortal.