St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor insists Benji Marshall's position at halfback is secure despite another mixed bag from the former Kiwi international in the 19-18 win over the Titans on Sunday.
Marshall looked like recapturing the magic of a fortnight ago when a deft short ball to Leeson Ah Mau enabled the Dragons to open the point-scoring in the fourth minute at Cbus Super Stadium but from that point on you never knew if he was going to be boom or bust.
A trademark cut-out pass from left to right in the 14th minute was intercepted by Titans winger Kevin Gordon who raced 85 metres to score but in the 32nd minute he dropped a pass on the inside to Josh Dugan who beat three defenders to score.
Titans prop forwards Luke Douglas and Matthew White put Marshall to shame with kicks that at least travelled in the direction in which they were intended – as opposed to a mid-field Benji bomb midway through the second half – but on the back of White's kick that gave the visitors good field position in the 64th minute, Marshall chipped perfectly into the north-east corner to earn his side a repeat set at a critical time of the game.
As he endeavours to lift the side into top eight contention on the back of sound fundamentals, it is the type of unpredictability that could cause a more hirsute coach to lose his hair but McGregor hosed down any suggestion that Marshall's position could be in jeopardy.
"Not at all," McGregor said. "Benji – like I said last week and the week before – it's a process and he's just got to play himself into form but you've got to put him out there, you've got to train hard, and he's doing that. Just keep it going and work on little parts of his game to improve.
"I thought 'Gaz' (Gareth Widdop) played well today. I think he had 54 touches to Benji's 42 so he needed to take a little bit of control because he was getting a bit of joy down that left edge."
Despite the Dragons' season being one very much still on life support, McGregor said it is fundamentals – and never questionable attitude – that has been the side's greatest battle.
Even in eking out a one-point win the Dragons completed just 73 per cent of their sets while a more wasteful Titans finished with a 67 per cent completion but McGregor praised a defensive resolve that for the most part held firm despite conceding 20 offloads.
"Defensively we were very good. They scored an intercept try against the run of play, their second try came from a barge over by [Mark Minichiello] and the last try came within the last two minutes," said the interim coach who is now 2-2 having taken over a month ago.
"The spirit never left, we just had to fix up a few things. These guys have got a lot of belief and the amount of times they've been kicked or pushed or talked about, at the end of the day it's a little bit embarrassing because no one takes to the football field not caring, we just needed to improve in a few areas which I think you're seeing now."
The Dragons' sixth win of the season failed to elevate them any higher on the Telstra Premiership table and with upcoming home games against the Storm and Cowboys before their second bye, they can ill afford to drop many more.
A period where they won one game in seven weeks ultimately cost former coach Steve Price his job but captain Ben Creagh insists there remains enough determination and spirit to mount a charge up the ladder.
"There have been parts of the season where it hasn't really gelled together but I think these last three or four weeks have really shown that there is a lot of pride left in the side, a lot of fight too, and that's great for the rest of the season," Creagh said.
"Players, as the years go on, you know there's going to be criticism when you're not going well from different people in different areas of the media or the fans or what-not but as players you always take the field wanting to do your best for your team-mate and the club."