Friday Frenzy: Benji talks up 'freakish' Johnson

MARSHALL v JOHNSON… It may well be a case of master v apprentice when Benji Marshall’s Tigers host Shaun Johnson and the Warriors at Leichhardt Oval tonight, but Marshall says his added years of experience will count for nothing if the home side doesn’t keep a close eye on the Warriors’ superstar halfback.

Recalling the week they spent together in Kiwi camp ahead of the ANZAC Test last month, Marshall said he was impressed by how quickly Johnson adjusted to the demands of Test football after taking him under his wing and warned that the 21-year-old had the confidence to run rings around the Tigers tonight if they gave him the opportunity.

“I did take it upon myself to make him feel comfortable (in camp with the Kiwis),” Marshall told NRL.com. “I remember my first game coming into the Kiwis as a half was pretty daunting, with guys like Ruben Wiki around, so I just wanted to make sure he was comfortable. And he was probably our best player on the night.

“He’s a good kid. After spending time with him in the Test, that was the first time I’d got to meet him and spend quality time with him. He is level-headed, really trains hard and you can see why he is playing so well. He puts in the work at training and he doesn’t get too far ahead of himself. I love watching him play.

Asked if he had seen any weaknesses the Tigers could exploit, Marshall replied: “No, he was good all-round. His defence was solid, his attack was solid and he’s got a good kicking game, so we’re going to have to be on our game.

“Everyone has to be aware of their job and when he has got his hands on the ball be aware that he could do anything. Some of the stuff he does is pretty freakish.”

While Marshall remains wary of the threat Johnson poses tonight, he admitted he is a huge fan of the youngster and his dazzling array of skills.

“He has been outstanding this year – he has pretty much followed on from where he left off last year,” Marshall said. “From a Kiwis point of view I hope that continues and we get to play more in the future. He is exciting to watch.”

The Tigers head into this week’s clash riding a three-match winning streak following wins over Penrith, Parramatta and the Gold Coast but will be without hooker Robbie Farah who is on State of Origin duty with NSW.

Farah’s spot in the starting line-up has been taken by Tom Humble, however Marshall pointed to interchange hooker Pat Politoni, who is making his NRL debut, as one to keep an eye on.

“He has been killing it in reserve grade and in my opinion he will be one to watch out for in the future,” he said. “Just his speed out of dummy-half – he would probably be the quickest hooker you’ll find in the game once you see him play.”

SEGEYARO TO MOVE?... It could be a case of contrasting fortunes for the Cowboys over the coming weeks as they look to secure the services of in-form duo Ashley Graham and James Segeyaro for 2013. Graham, the NRL’s top tryscorer this season with 11 tries from 10 games, was recently offered a new deal and is expected to re-sign within days.

The news may not be so good on the Segeyaro front, however, with the exciting young hooker set to spend the bye week in Sydney next week meeting with rival clubs. The Cowboys can expect a fight to keep him – although should he move on it would ensure long-serving clubman Aaron Payne would get the chance at another one-year contract.

‘GAL’ HAPPY AT PROP… It seems NSW captain Paul Gallen is destined to play out the rest of his representative career in the front row, but the move doesn’t worry him too much with the 30-year-old admitting that despite his mammoth workload he actually finds it easier playing in the middle.

Speaking to us recently for the official Anzac Test match program, Gallen – who incredibly ran for 200 metres or more in six consecutive games for Cronulla between Rounds 3 and 8 this year – spoke about the differences between his role at club and rep level.

“A lot of time with the Sharks I play on the edge and that’s a lot different than playing in the middle,” he explained. “When you play on the edge you’ve got to hold a lot of shape and run a few more lines off the halves. I do that okay but I find that when the chips are down a little bit and we might need to chuck it around I tend to go in for a run. It tends to ruin our shape altogether and isn’t the best for the team but I find [playing in the middle] easier, to be honest. Physically it’s probably harder but mentally I find the game a lot easier playing in the middle than on the edge. Do I prefer it? I don’t know. I’m happy to do either but I suppose it’s a bit of an easier job in the middle.”

Gallen admitted that his ability to notch such huge numbers on the field wasn’t necessarily replicated on the training field and said he has no idea where his incredible motor comes from.

“It’s funny,” he said. “People talk about it but when I get put there that’s just my job and it’s what I do. I’m out there for 80 minutes so I get the opportunity to make that many tackles and carries. I don’t think it’s anything too out of the ordinary.

“But I don’t know [where it comes from] because I do fitness at training and I’m not really the best at it. I enjoy doing a bit of extra training by myself which I think probably helps me a lot mentally but I think it’s just getting out on the field and being competitive. I suppose I’ve been doing it for a while now so my body is accustomed to doing it. I couldn’t tell you exactly, I think it’s just that I find it in me when I’m on the field.”

Queensland beware.

SHACKLETON SHIFT… Out-of-favour Parramatta forward Shane Shackleton is certain to leave the club at the end of the season, with at least two other Sydney clubs interested in his services. Shackleton, of course, has been plying his trade for the Eels’ feeder club Wentworthville since criticising coach Stephen Kearney on facebook earlier this season and despite assurances that the incident wouldn’t affect his chances of an NRL return under Kearney, he is quietly convinced that he won’t ever wear the Parramatta jersey again.

RELIEVED DRAGONS… St George Illawarra are hoping that the absence of South Sydney’s strike duo of Greg Inglis and Dave Taylor combined with the return from injury of their own attacking weapon Jamie Soward will reignite their season following consecutive losses to North Queensland and Penrith.

The Dragons have slipped to 10th on the ladder and need a win at WIN Jubilee on Sunday to stay in touch with the top eight but centre Kyle Stanley said he was confident the side’s attack would spark to life this week.

“They’ve got Inglis and Taylor out, who are a big part of their side,” he said. “Obviously they’ve got a lot of good players there still but I think we’ve got enough points in us. With [Soward] back this week hopefully we can showcase that.

“I think it (attack) is the focus for us. Our execution hasn’t been up to scratch but we’ve worked on that again this week.”