After being introduced to his new St George Illawarra teammates by coach Steve Price yesterday, Benji Marshall told them he wanted to earn their respect before being selected for his first NRL appearance with the club.
Sporting a white Dragons cap, Marshall looked sharp as he trained in the new colours for the first time at WIN Stadium, but Price and the coaching staff were yet to decider whether to play their star recruit in Saturday's clash with Parramatta, or wait until after the following weekend's bye to blood him against South Sydney, in a match in which the two clubs split the proceeds of the gate.
Despite his standing in the game, the former Kiwis skipper was prepared to play his way into the team from NSW Cup with the Illawarra Cutters. Dragons players were impressed by his attitude as well as the ability he demonstrated during a two-hour ball session.
"He is a very humble guy and that is a great quality to have come into the club," St George Illawarra skipper Ben Creagh said.
"He got up and said 'I want to train hard and play hard and earn the respect of all you guys at the club'. He hasn't come here thinking he is going to get a jersey straight away or deserves one or anything like that."
As only a few of the Dragons players have previously played alongside Marshall, Price said he had introduced him to the squad before training.
"We had a bit of a team meeting before the video session this morning and I just put him up to say a few words," Price said.
"He just spoke about how he wants to earn the respect of his teammates and compete hard, and that sort of thing. Benji is a winner, he has shown that over the years. He is a proud man, he is a very humble man and hopefully we see the best of Benji in the red V sometime this year."
Once on the training field, it was clear Marshall had been learning some of the St George Illawarra plays as he was calling moves during an opposed game.
Initially, Marshall was involved in a game of seven-a-side touch refereed by Price. He threw the final pass for several tries before doing some marker work with giant fitness balls and a five versus five defensive drill in a small area of the field.
"Great line speed, Benji," Price yelled.
During the opposed session, Marshall ran at five-eighth and played mostly on the right side of the field. On one occasion, he put a kick along the ground from about 30 metres out that stopped in the in-goal area, prompting chasing winger Peter Mata'utia to shout "good f***ing kick".
Afterwards, Marshall spoke in the middle of the field with Price and assistant coach Paul McGregor before going to one end of the No 2 ground at WIN Stadium to practice grubber kicks with former St George Illawarra halfback and captain Ben Hornby.
"It is all about understanding the structures and our systems and we will make a call as we go in the coming days," Price said.
After the disappointment of their 38-6 thrashing by Canterbury on Sunday, the Dragons players said Marshall's presence had generated a "buzz" at training which would lift them for Saturday's match at Pirtek Stadium.
"To see a legend like Benji come to the club, I think it picked everyone's morale up a bit and everyone was stoked to see him here," Trent Merrin said.
"As soon as I heard that we were chasing him I was real keen on it, I got in the coach's ear and pushed for it, so I am happy he is here now."
Kiwis centre Gerard Beale added: "He is a special player and there is a certain aura about him that can spread confidence amongst the team. We are lucky to have him at the club and it is going to be exciting."
- Sydney Morning Herald
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